by bryan parys
I am writing in the middle of a blackout thinking about why my mother has Facebook and I still don’t.
Well, the sun is still shining through my office window here at UNH, and I’ll be catching a bus back to my electrified apartment momentarily, but right now, in this moment, technology is dead.
I think the debate around the information age in general is garrulous, perilous, multiplicitous and marvelous. I could craft this scribble to offer an argument that says free-flowing info and electronic social networking is the best thing to have happened since Gutenberg. I could just as easily condemn it and call for a lot more dark nights of the soul as well as the living room.
But I don’t want to do either. Nor do I even feel equipped to make such a grand analysis—I can’t even decide if I want to join Facebook.
It seems to me that FB is a collection of moments—an effluvial list of things that shout, “This is me, unedited; don’t you get it? Do you know me yet?” And it is the nature of moments to resist analysis beyond a split-second decision. This is why people de-friend you when you start posting rants on FB about why your political party is so much better than everyone else’s. FB is an outlet where details are allowed to stand alone and timestamp the moment. It is a place for the specific, not the abstract. So you just made tea and the baby puked on your shoe. Update your status! It is your moment, and when I look over my wife’s shoulder and scan the litany of current wall posts, we confirm your moment, your existence in the world.
We are inexorably, unrelentingly, blissfully in the moment. So we do what God did when He came down to our
earthly moment: gather disciples; or, to put it quite simply, collect things.
I love to collect objects of little worth. Many readers may recall my admission in Installation 5 that I obsessively save junk email. Well, time hasn’t slowed that disposition. In fact, time has never changed; it is we who decide what pauses and speeds by. I crave moments that most of us forget, or never recognize at all. I own the Ben-Hur soundtrack on vinyl; I still have a notebook from my time at Gordon where I wrote down this quote from Dr. Aiken: “Where the Chickens of Love come home to roost”; and I can cite this cryptic email that appeared in my spam box:
for your efforts will be an equivocal one: you will feel as suffocated
I don’t know who Gale is, and I don’t really know what the sender is talking about, but it feels like a warning: Don’t just collect; share, or you’ll stop breathing.
So does this mean I’ll be signing up for FB in the near future? I have no idea. But that’s not the point I’m circling here. I’m simply trying to essay this moment. And by essay, I speak of the definition from the middle-French essai, meaning “to try” or “to explore.” I use it, as Montaigne implied and Emerson did, as a verb, turning mere moments into moments of action, of eternity.
Posting details on FB, then, is just the start of the essay. The rest of it is what you do with that information in the real world. Maybe that’s why I’m not on there yet: The weight of details feels to me like stacks of would-be books. I want to follow each detail until I know each and every one of you, answering your constant questions of existence. I may not have a FB account, but I already spend way too much time spying on others through my wife’s account. And even then I feel overcome by the flexed armfuls of humanity.
I haven’t learned not to suffocate myself, basically. When things get messy and crowded, I try to hold all the moments at once, arranging them like shards of stained glass until they move from a pile of colors to the shape of a saint. I guess I’m just going to need some more time to breathe.