Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Un-Social Network

On any night, there could be as many as twenty of us scattered across the various stoops and car hoods along the block. We each had a favorite guitar player. For many of us it was Jimmy Page. For some, it was Tony Iommi. A few even chose Alex Lifeson of Rush. Some of the older guys had Eric Clapton and one prayed at the altar of Ritchie Blackmore.

On any night, there would be shouting matches filled with profanity-laced insults where everyone's mother was fair game simply because you liked Jimmy Page more than Tony Iommi. It would get ugly as the angry voices of naive teenagers would echo for blocks.

At the close of every business day though, we all went home and then the next morning these same screaming idiots could be seen choosing up sides for a game of touch football or street hockey. We were friends and even if we weren't aware of it, we respected each other. We knew each other's enemies and looked out for one another. There were no "like" buttons. Or, "blocking." The news feed was the corner. There were no moles... on Facebook.

I've tried to embrace Facebook from various points of view since I first signed up and it just won't take.

I was thinking about Burning Wood and how faceless names like Dogbreath and A Walk In The Woods and Peabody Nobis and Iggy have treated me and the words I write, as well as the other people of this online community with love and respect. This is a real social network. Conversely, people I know, people I have touched and slapped and kissed and danced with, are incredibly careless with their words on Facebook. Is it really a social network? It feels more like millions of individuals fighting for airtime and God help you if you get in the way.

I posted something last night, a picture of a local bar, a legendary NYC establishment of my old neighborhood called Miladys, that unexpectedly shut its doors on Sunday night after 70 years. There have been many posts about it, but the reason I decided to post something was because of what my friend Ivan said.

"Miladys lost its lease. Another one gone. Two hipsters walked by and asked me what happened. I said, You."

This broke me up. I laughed out loud, loving the line so much, I was saying it out loud. I quoted Ivan in the post and it took all but 90 seconds for the "likes" and comments. Then, moments later, I hated Facebook all over again. Here's one comment, "Miladys scummy landlord is a hipster? Weird." This was posted by an ex-employee of mine, a glib and entitled guy who is still bitter from being fired. All of his comments, though few and far between, are usually of this nature, leaving me to wonder why he requested my friendship in the first place.

Another comment was, "Hate the game, not the player." Yet another started, "Be nice, Sal.." Suddenly, my little moment of joy, the space I used to mourn the loss of another piece of my past, became a wall for hipster-sympathizers? Did they not get the point of the post? Did they not see the quotes or Ivan's name below the quote?

Of course this might seem like an overreaction on my part, but it becomes more clear everyday. At the greatest moment of my life, I never had 348 "friends." Facebook is quantity over quality. There was more respect from a group of sexless, lanky teenagers with acne on a street corner. There is more respect from the countless comments left on these pages by strangers who feel more like friends, even though we've never met.

Funny, one of the other two comments I just posted was from a real friend. Someone I love and respect and yet, he seems to get great joy at pushing my buttons. I didn't care for that when I was 16. I'm thrilled even less by it now. 

Are the examples I just gave reasonable examples to lose my cool, or completely shun an entire network or all of the 348 "friends?" Probably not. But there's always a last straw. And those who are my friends know it. I know it.

I think about Burning Wood and the many disagreements over what is good or bad musically, and with the exception of the occasional troll, it has been a blast, a learning experience, something fun that I keep returning to. As do all of you. Even when you find the time to insult Todd Rundgren or me for liking Todd Rundgren, it never feels like you don't want me here, or more importantly, it feels like you're paying attention.

In a twist on Groucho's quote, "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member," why be part of a club like Facebook where most don't give a shit if you're a member or not?


Brian said...

Compelling thought, beautifully written. Unlike FB. Right on!

misospecial said...

I hate Facebook but then I am dependent on it, particularly since relocating to a city where I know almost no one. Beyond the faceless tyranny of the bloodsucking (privacy-sucking) marketing juggernaut, which is another topic entirely, there are these weird things you touch on... like how people we only know virtually can be so kind and simpatico and old friends can be so tin-eared or callous. And how blithely people do drive-bys, swooping in on a thread, not reading it but then dropping a post at the end that at the least repeats something from six comments up and at the worst hijacks the thread for something about THEM, and suddenly... crickets. I keep waiting for another outlet, something that will provide a place to post music, photos, and writing of my own and my friends, but in a less noisy, exploitative, CROWDED environment. Sometimes it's like having a great little conversation with a few friends on the subway platform at Times Square, and then the express pulls in and the platform is flooded with people and a crazy person gets off the train and starts screaming at you...

Clumsy metaphor, but that's sort of the feeling.

William Repsher said...

Not on Facebook. Not on Spotify either ... because they require you to have a Facebook account to be on it.

It always seemed like BS to me. While the theory is sound -- develop a network of friends and acquaintances to interact with online -- the reality is skewed. There's no real communication ... just greeting-card sentiments and a lot of senseless effluvia floating around. Everyone's lives are golden and happy on Facebook, every week, a new high, a new achievement, surrounded by my legion of "friends," look at me, my life is like something out of a Disney animated movie!

Right. You should be glad we have perspective on all this, being old enough to predate the internet. I surely went through this phase in the 90s, pre-Facebook, via Internet message boards and such. Facebook just built a much better mousetrap for people to waste time and self absorb.

But for people raised entirely within this culture ... it's a bit frightening when you grasp the shallowness and insecurity that's now second nature for those who rely on social networks for their version of simple human interaction. I always cringe when I'm next to someone on the subway train or sidewalk and that person is completely engrossed in the smartphone to the exclusion of their immediate reality. If the person had dropped his or her pants and started masturbating instead, it wouldn't seem any more or less self absorbed and/or shocking to me.

There will be an inevitable social network backlash. Probably already is for people who have spent a few years pumping countless hours into this stuff and realizing there are zero returns in terms of quality of life. These things were meant to serve us, not vice-versa. And I can see with some friends, they do use it appropriately.

Re: old employees. Not to single out NYCD -- it was a fairly typical experience to be treated like dogshit or invisible by record-store employees back in the day. Tower was the worst, and usually smaller shops like yours were much better. But every now and then ... can't tell you how glad I was when you or your partner were manning the front counter!

buzzbabyjesus said...

I practically don't exist anywhere except here, and a handful of other sites.
When I worked at the museum I dropped into the store on a nearly daily basis to buy cd's, and hang out with you. I'm glad I found Burning Wood (through Power Pop, which I found through Willard, when a certain guy with a name similar to Nimels who I read for years in Stereo Review commented) and that we're still hanging out.
I learned how to comment here.

In the beginning I made one too many disparaging remarks concerning RUSH, which I regret.

I try not to pick any fights over on FB. Through it I keep in touch with friends all over the country having been born in New York, raised in southern California, moved to Florida, then North Carolina, New York and finally Jersey City.
I'm a painter and I can show my work without everyone having to come over.

About a year ago, I went down to North Carolina to reform an old band as a reunion for a benefit.
I would have used email, but the drummer persuaded me to use the FB messaging center. Facebook was a great tool for that. We kept in touch with each other, fans and organizers.
A professional photographer took some great shots of me onstage and posted on FB. I nabbed them and used one as a profile picture.

A friend of a friend, another JC musician, commented favorably on my stage presence, and guitar. We commented back and forth and became friends. We have dozens of mutual friends.
Last night I was at an art opening in City Hall. I had a couple paintings in a group show. There was a band playing. They morphed into a drum which was really another band starting. I've played with the conga player before. I see a djembe not in use, and I get the nod to sit in. Of course it's a blast. There are four of us playing drums and a guitar player. We look at each other and say "I know you". Turns out he's the friend of a friend I met on FB a year ago.
The one time I hated Facebook was logging on after a week of no electricity no thanks to Sandy. The sheer superficiality people posting what they had for dinner bugged the shit out of me. I said so on my wall. A couple supposed friends got really mad. I pointed out that without electricity the battery powered radio tuned to WNYC was our only friend. That's why I'm a sustaining member.

Sal Nunziato said...

Through Facebook, an old and dear friend who I hadn't seen in years contacted me and we have been in constant contact since and closr than ever. I also met some really wonderful people. The percentage, at least for me of good versus bad is very, very low.

Did you ever try having a conversation with someone who seems so anxious to say his piece that he really doesn't seem to be listening to you at all? He's just waiting for you to finish so he can best you? That's what I mostly get from Facebook. Lots of hijacking and besting, as miso said. It's unpleasant...for me.

Jeff Matthews said...

All your points are well taken and there are many additional negative and troubling aspects of FB - for me, the problem of mixing friends/family and professional colleagues, or when students/trainees and even patients that have tried to "friend" me. I've definitely had to set limits and be really careful managing the privacy settings. And I've had to unfriend a handful of people over the years. But despite this, I still find FB a net positive in so many ways that I'm sticking with it...

A walk in the woods said...

Wow, great comments here, and a nice springboard for them to start it, Sal. I’ve been thinking about this too – probably a lot of us have, as FB becomes more hegemonous (if hegemony wasn’t an adjective before, it is now!). Like other folks here, I am dismayed by not only people glued to smartphones constantly – that’s bad enough – but worse are the people apparently out on a date or dude’s night out and even they have their cell phones out, back to back like bookends, as if they’re going to lose their fortune in the stock market unless they trade NOW!

Any of us who grew up in the 60s/70s know that’s a hollow bet. That being said – I am on FB, and it’s mostly a fun diversion; sometimes annoying vacuous; and sometimes maddening for political positions and sales pitches that come to me unwanted. But if it went away tomorrow, that would be fine.

This forum is excellent I think b/c the group of commenters seems kind of pre-selected to be nerdy-fanatic about music, and whether those interests do or do not include Todd Rundgren for some, it’s always a fun discussion – sans politics, pictures of puppies, or cell-phone photos of the end-of-day beer one is about to drink, like we all see on FB.

Cheers to you for creating something good in the virtual world, Sal.

David Handelman said...

It is quite easy on Facebook to unfriend someone or block someone and then you are free of this behavior. I have cherished this aspect of it from the get go and even though it's like swimming in the ocean knowing there are sharks swimming below, I feel safe and happy.

David Handelman said...

Also -- I have cultivated a list of FB friends, some of whom I only know because other FB friends have introduced us -- who provide me ample reading materials each day so I don't feel compelled to go to the overwhelming aggregator sites like HuffPo. I just look at the NYT and Facebook and feel informed enough. That is its usefulness to me, not reading about people's meals or vacations. When I post I try to be useful to others, or share an experience people can relate to, or inform about an artist I like etc., as opposed to pure humble or not so humble bragging.

steves said...

I think there's just something about the Internet that invites snark. People hide behind their keyboards and think they're invisible (even though on something like FB you clearly are not). In any event, don't let the douchebags get you down, Sal. And my belated wishes for all the best in the New Year!


Anonymous said...


Agree with your points. I use lamebook solely to see how family/friends are doing. I rarely comment on it so I can avoid "political" discussions and other problem areas. I check in on an occasional basis. I find it not worth the hassle and I already lived through high school/college once and don't see the need to relive it.

That said, I find other social media sites better suited to my interests and seek them out.

Too much social media reminds me of electronic masturbation, which should probably be kept private.

Michael D.

Jerry Lee said...

I only have 20 friends, and maybe 20 likes because I just don't want to spend much time on it, and the constant monitoring of my activity to use me for marketing purposes is bullshit. "Your friend likes Target". I don't care. My "friends" don't use it very much, no one in my immediate family is on it, and the two people who emailed me to sign up might comment 6 times a year.

It was good to get back in touch with a few people I hadn't seen in years. One woman wanted to have discussions on current issues and politics with her 350 friends, but most of them quickly degenerated to anger and cursing. I don't care for that behavior on blogs, and I don't want to spend half my nights having online debates. She used to vent about things about once a week, and then I realized that she's retired and has too much time on her hands. Fortunately for her, she cut out most of it, I think she was alienating too many people.

The funniest thing that happened was during the 2012 election campaign. I "liked" a story from The Onion about how Mitt Romney said that everyone in Pennsylvania who voted for him could have one hour with his wife. A week later I get a "Sponsored Story" from a same-day STD testing service!

Eric said...

Firstly, news of miladys came thru wood and i was extremely bummed out(as i indicated in my voicemail)...facebook at the beginning for me, maybe for wood, was a vehicle to expand my business connections/audience, yet u gotta be one helluva self indulgent self centered self promoter to keep that grind goin'...i like to see people i've never met, talked to et al wish me happy b-day..most of these strangers were selling something....u wear ur heart on ur sleeve sal in a mostly heartless yorkers, we r born sarcastic, leap to cynical but hopefully never cross into bitterness as thats an irreversible road..finally, with all the hoopla about snowden and the nsa spying, the trifecta of facebook/smartphone/gmail gives up most of privacy anyway....remix

charlie c. said...

just because someone pushes sal's buttons, wittingly or wittingly, that doesn't make him a bastard or a douchebag . . . but i would like some more info on electronic masturbation.
singled out in secaucus

dogbreath said...

I'm not on Facebook or any other social network. Nor will I ever be. No reason other than I'm antisocial. And I've never held the Todd Rundgren thing against you (not for too long anyway).

peabody nobis said...

Thanks for the kind words, Sal. It's sad that there are so many people on social media, and commenting on regular blogs, who just want to make a splash, negative though it may be. I was raised to have common courtesy and respect for others, and I certainly wouldn't say anything on the net that I wouldn't say to someone's face. Anonymity or not.
I enjoy visiting your blog because you know your music, and we have similar tastes in music. I know when you recommend something that it will worthwhile. I don't love everything that you offer up, but I try to give it a listen. How dull a world would it be if everyone liked all the same music?
And most of all, no one should have to defend their love of any kind of music! So you love Rundgren; so what? Something in his music touches you. It can't always be explained why we love what we love. I love Barry White and Parliament Funkadelic, but I also love LedZep and Midnight Oil, REM and Radiohead, George Jones and Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
I just love music, and this is a great forum for exploring that love. I wish I could have been around to drop by your shop back in the day. I spent a great deal of time in record stores in the 70s and 80s, even running a shoe store next door to a "Record Bar"(Coincidence? I think not!) The manager and I became great friends, and we spent many hours drinking, smoking, and talking music. It was a great time, and I miss it terribly, but what you offer on these pages comes as close as I'll ever get to that.
I know that you get frustrated and burnt out from time to time, and please know that it's okay to step away for a few days or weeks when it gets to be too much. Just don't close up shop permanently because some folks wanna be dickheads, okay?
I was on FB for a while, but I dropped it; too many pissing contests about politics and other BS. Life's too short.
And don't let the bastards get you down. Thanks again, Sal, for everything you do.

Michael Giltz said...

I've just liked this post on Facebook!