A Tribe Called Facebook
The Woodstock Nation was about nothing if not social transformation and community. (Well, it was also about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and mud – lots and lots of mud - but that’s for another day.) Which may be why, after an initial reluctance to fully embrace the brave new cyberworld, many of my generation have found ourselves boogying down the Facebook highway.
And lo! There was light coming from a screen in the middle of long, addictive nights, and friends appearing from all over the planet, and my daughter lamenting on her own wall, “My mom is now friends with everyone on Facebook.”
This week my article A Jungian Alice in Social Media Land: Some Reflections on Solastalgia, Kinship Libido, and Tribes Formed on Facebook appears in Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, published by the University of California Press. It’s my own riffing on the dark and light of the Facebook experience, from the inanity and nastiness that can appear on walls and timelines to what happens when people committed to a path of peace, justice, ecological healing, and, especially, consciousness of our profound interconnection start doing just that: interconnecting.
I’m going to share a few highlights here from my article, hoping you’ll take the time to get your literal or virtual hands on the whole issue or the article itself and that it gets you thinking about your own take on what we odd humans are doing when we pour out our souls to a screen composed of liquid crystal sandwiched between pieces of polarized glass.
In my article I talk about Facebook being, on the one hand, “not just an A-ticket to voyeurism, but the ultimate narcissistic playground, an exhibitionist’s delight, a socially sanctioned way to indulge in the craving to be seen,” with its wall (and, now, timeline) a forum for virtual graffiti that echoes the psychological functions of actual graffiti in our urban barrios and ghettos. After all, “adolescent taggers may be frustrated artists, but they are often also frustrated and disempowered young souls, unmirrored and unrecognized by family, social institutions, the culture-at-large, and most importantly, within themselves, seeking any way they can to make their mark on the environment, to claim their own little place and sense of belonging on this earth.”
But that’s just one dimension of it. Our longing for a sense of home and belonging in this world can also lead to the kind of goose bumpy elation I felt when I was included in my first Facebook note, which just happened to be about the Quantum Physics theory of multiple universes. I’d recently completed The History of My Body, “a coming-of-age novel about a young girl who becomes a quantum physicist, and I was struck by the synchronicity between where researching the rarified world of physics had been taking my science-challenged mind and what I was now reading in various comments on this thread. This was my first intimation that Facebook might be more than what it seemed.”
“…I found myself reaching out to those people whose posts mirrored the cutting edge of my own development, ultimately extending to the ones who opened my eyes more fully to our beleaguered planet - ecological scientists and activists...I found myself recalling the wonderful quote attributed to Anais Nin: ‘Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.’"
“…The environmental community on Facebook began to exert an increasingly compelling pull on me that was only strengthened with the godawful crisis in the Gulf…” Against a horrifying backdrop of pelicans drenched in oil, I was touched beyond measure by this post by environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensperger: ‘On the high precipice of the heart. No finger holds. No toe holds. It is all dark and then the dark too blooms and sings. The dark feet and the dark wings of fellow travelers hold a net below. This shall not fail.’” All I could think was, “Wow!”
Carolyn’s vantage point inexorably led me to Paul Hawken, who’s written, “When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”
These days, my Facebook conversations “range from the utterly mundane to science, politics, psychology, philosophy, and the sheer delight of life-affirming humor. The longest comment threads on my own page have concerned the Gulf Oil tragedy, the mid-term elections, Laurens van der Post and Jung, safely removing bees from walls, the poet Mary Oliver, You Tube songs, cosmetic surgery, favorite parts of London, the concept of the Mitochondrial Eve, the performance art of Laurie Anderson, and friends playfully fantasizing forming girl groups, having slumber parties, and bouncing on the bed. I’ve come to look at Facebook conversation as a kind of call and response that frequently affirms, occasionally contradicts, sometimes trivializes, but often deepens the common point of reflection. It’s one reason I call the people I’m dialoguing with most frequently my FaceTribe, one of millions of tribes singing songs of the dark times back and forth across the internet and, in the process, constellating little sparks of conscious light.”
The thing is, though, we don’t get light without shadow. When Gabby Giffords was shot, a Facebook “friend” had this to say in response to my post of a New York Times gun-control editorial:
“Let's impose sensible controls on speech, press, religion, and all of the rest of our constitutional rights while we're at it. If you want my guns, you're welcome to come get them. Actually, if you'll come just a little closer, I'll give them to you a little piece at a time. How about 180 grains of full metal jacket at about 2500 feet per second?”
While I was busy freaking out over his response, my literary agent and friend Jessica Trupin jumped in with this fantastic riposte:
“The shooter was taken down by a 61 year old woman who was quick to jam her hand under his gun so he couldn't reload. Three men, age indeterminate, then tackled him and held him down. The congresswoman was likely saved by a 20 year old who ran into a hail of bullets and kept her from bleeding to death right there. Not a single one of them had a gun. I certainly hope your post is a rough and ill-timed parody, but if it's not, you should re-examine your willingness to post something that threatening at a time like this.”
I learned from this experience that someone being a friend of a friend is no guarantee of sanity - I’d accepted this guy’s request to be my friend because he was friends with one of my favorite New York Times columnists...”
Such shocking surprises aren’t the only downsides of Facebook, which “not only presents opportunities for avoidance of a lived life, but can also lend itself to addictive drives, malicious gossip, along with out and out viciousness like that of my Mr. NRA -- not to mention the dark side of tribalism itself, with its pull toward fundamentalism, loss of individual integrity, and mass-mindedness…Facebook tribes can exaggerate our human tendency to preach to the choir and demonize the Other.” Or, as Anne Lamott once put it, "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
One of the questions I explore in my article is, “Who are we – what incarnations of ourselves – when we’re on Facebook? Avatar? Homunculus? Golem? What happens when the youngest generation has a harder time than its predecessors in reading the expressions on a human face? Does mechanization implicitly exclude – or can it ever actually facilitate – soul?”
The truth is – and this is something my novel’s young protagonist Fleur reinforced for me – “all the machines in the world can never improve upon the silence at the center of the soul that generates new birth. Virtually every creation myth throughout the ages tells us that new life begins with the void. If we give ourselves over fully to the addictive temptation to wallpaper every inch of inner space with the neon seductions of our machines – our televisions, our Blackberries, our iPads, our Facebook -- we crush the capacity to make meaning of what our imaginations generate, leaving us wide-open to creating scores of Golems who ham-fistedly trample possibility and the earth who gave birth to us all…”
So I warmly invite you to read the article, think a little about the questions it raises, then back away from that computer, “get up offa that thang,” get back to the garden, take a hike, do some yoga, chop wood, carry water, visit a friend, make a little love, do a little dance, organize a demonstration, cook some veggies - hell, even empty a litter box! – and give your imagination a nice nourishing dose of the void.
(Excerpts reprinted from A Jungian Alice in Social Media Land: Some Reflections on Solastalgia, Kinship Libido, and Tribes Formed on Facebook, Sharon Heath
Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche , Vol. 6, No. 2 (Spring 2012), pp. 110-127
Article DOI: 10.1525/jung.2012.6.2.110
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jung.2012.6.2.110)