Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton N. Minow
to the convention of the National Association of Broadcasters
on May 9, 1961

I GUESS I LIKE FACEBOOK. I must. I spent way too much time scanning what’s posted to suggest that I don’t. Way too much time.

I think I like Facebook because it makes me feel good in a rather superior sort of way. Particularly when I view items from the political arena posted or forwarded by friends or friends of friends, I feel good. I view the rants that defy logic. I read diatribes that make outstanding – albeit not very believable – fiction. I look at treasonous statements guised as God-fearing and patriotic. I feel good because after only a few moments of perusal, I can determine that there are a hell of a lot of people out there (with a computer and access to the internet) that are a whole lot stupider and more gullible than I.

Conversely, occasionally I’ll post something or respond in some way that assures friends of my friends that I am, indeed, dumber than they are. It’s only fair.

OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS, the nearly limitless bounds of electronic communication have proven revolutionary. In Tunesia, Egypt, Libya and throughout troubled areas of the globe, folks’ instant access to calls to action has changed the political landscape in ways only imaged and at paces never before realized. Communication, it is true, can be the great democratizer.

But just as, in the 50s, television held such promise only to become “a vast wasteland,” instantaneous access to information – information frequently not vetted for accuracy – serves to democratize innuendo, half-truths, and even outright falsehoods. Wasteland, indeed.  Science is refuted. History is rewritten. The constitution is cherry-picked and so is the Bible. The result is a segment of our population that is ill informed, angry, reinforced and able to mobilize others.

I watch with bemusement as friends of friends who actually do not know one another engage in vitriolic debates with neither really interested in grasping the other’s point of view. What we get is not a coming together because of reasoned dialog, but a pulling apart – a polarization – of our population at a time in history where such polarization will not serve our greater good. We’d all be better off if we took a nice long quiet walk in the park somewhere.

But we don’t. Instead we read the screen, enrage ourselves at the idiotic comments of (what are they called?) trolls, then tap out a hurtful message to someone we may never meet. We type things we’d never say to someone face-to-face for fear of getting whacked up the side of the head with a pool cue. We allow someone else’s anger to displace our own good will while hiding behind the relative anonymity provided by Facebook and the Internet.

I’m guilty of this myself.

CAN FACEBOOK be used to change someone’s mind? Probably not. Why? For a conversation to take place, it needs to happen in an environment where the inflections of voice and nuances of physicality carry at least some of the load. That doesn’t happen at a keyboard. For communication to occur, we need to set aside unfounded rumor or ideological non-truths and allow reason, reflection and rationality to reign. And for true dialog to occur, we need to accept that it may neither be quick nor convenient.

Yes, Facebook is quick and, oh, so convenient.

But if I want to change your mind – or you, mine – we’ll need to get together and chat.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. PA: Ahhh, I feel so much better after my hike. I was a little irked this morning by some idiotic posts....and VERY irked with myself that I responded to one of them....like that's ever productive :).

  2. I joined a string of comments today at an awkward moment. There was some of the 'shouting back and forth from two people' that apparently did not know one another. I felt compelled to write calmly to one - the one that was sorta over the top. I wrote directly to him. And, strangely, he continued a dialog with me for quite a while. He told me about himself, his complaints, his wishes for understanding. The content of the entire dialog changed. No, we did not sit and have a chat. But, someone that may have needed to be heard (even via the internet) was heard.
    Is this a perfect medium for communication? Of course not. But, it might only be as good/healthy/healing/satisfactory as I am willing to be.
    Thank you for your post. Any other day I would have agreed with you 100%. Today, for me, something else happened.

  3. Dear Anonymous:

    It looks to me as if you did have a chat. A one on one chat. Terrific.

    I think that if we scratch just a little bit below the surface of those whom we believe to be vitriolic or out of touch we find that they are simply seeking the same thing we all are seeking: understanding. Perhaps we don't scratch that surface quite enough.

    Thank you SO MUCH for your response.

  4. I've always thought our great new technology is like a double edge sword. The constant connection is very scarey to me, smacks of 'big brother". I, for one, will not buy a phone device that keeps you connected to the web. An "old fashion" flip phone is all I'll have, no text, no apps (?), no internet. Soon I'll probably not be able to buy one of those. Doing these things is in fact more isolating than social. To give up the simple thing of calling someone up to say hi or give a message and typing it out is just sad. I know we do that here on FB, but it's the connecting with old friends that override my concerns about being hacked or followed. Just that term alone (followed) keeps me off that twitter thing. My best times are out, without connections, in the hills alongside a river (Yuba being one of my favorites). Natures and her sounds, can't beat it.