Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Apr 23, 2012

Eggland's Best (Or, Is Facebook Making Me Lonely?)

An old idiom goes like this: you've got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.  This makes sense, but as a truism it brings to mind whiffs of something sulfuric, something unappetizing. The thought of freshly-fried eggs, steaming hot from a teflon pan, in theory seems like a fairly commendable dietary idea. But I simply cannot bring myself to eat an egg knowingly. I can crack them, I can mix 'em up here and there, I can cook them, I can even present them in most attractive ways on a platter: but do not ask me, ever, to consume one. The same goes for bourbon, scotch, and other spirits.

So, surprisingly, I was not aware until now that I had been paying subsconsious (rapt?) attention to televsion commercials that featured fresh eggs. Yet, whenever a chipper, colored Eggland 's Best spot reveals itself on my television screen, and the spokeshands of some woman model  begin to crack open some of those pearly white shells, with the raw contents all slimy and translucent and mellow orange streaming down like a leak from a rusty pipe into a glass mixing bowl, making me think as well, incongruously, disturbingly of the gutting of a dead-swinging pig in a slaughterhouse, I surrender as a complete captive, I melt like something cold in that fiery pan: You got to mess with some eggs . . . .  as that time-tested saying goes.

Having left me deeply unsettled, it is as if some long submerged anti-social tendency, like an Edgar Allen Poe protagonist, is trying to express itself  to the world. Part of the story is this: I always feel sad when I step up to shelves of those hopeless, cartoned-up eggs, cracked and uncracked. I sympathize with their hapless donors: the chickens.

Walking in a Safeway or something, plucking up a carton of twelve eggs (large size, grade A quality please) that will pleasure someone else is a tricky thing -- it's a task not be entrusted to your average urban egghunter. Nearly everyone makes a predictable error. You must always peer in, with a keen eye, into the coffinesque foam holder before you place your eggs in your basket. This should be a required ritual in our egg-crazy culture, at the sparkly egg case, under the big word Dairy high on the wall above. For once you roll on up to the electronic scanner and your precious money gets laid down on the barrelhead: it's too late to turn your broken misfortune around.

It never fails. If your eyes did not swoop in properly, when making your decision at the frosty Dairy henhouse, there will turn out to be a cracked egg (perhaps  more than one) hidden away in a bent up little package mold. Then things really begin to go to hell.  Like your brain on drugs in the archetypal TV commercial:  Any questions . . . ?

Hey, you: yes, you. I asked if you have . . . any questions!

This it so happens raises the whole overly examined question of using Facebook. In my case:  I feel some days like FB use is causing me to turn me into that lonely, leaking lookalike orb of an egg in that imperfect and enviromentally undesirable carton.

Are these denizens of Digitopia feelin' lonely?
In the Atlantic Monthly current issue, the tease by a copy editor eggs us on: Social media — from Facebook to Twitter — have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity . . . we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic). And the loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill. A report on what the epidemic of loneliness is doing to our souls and our society. Cracked. Leaking. Weakening. My life force oozing out oh so slowly: like old antifreeze dripping down from the car's battery, or like fragments of skin at the cellular plane sloughing off minuscule and weightless to the floor from a computer user's forearm.

The author of the magazine piece, Stephen Marche, gamely takes a stab of what is the conundrum, or the stealthy fox as it were, in the digital denizen's hen house:

     We know intuitively that loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. Solitude can be   lovely. Crowded parties can be agony. We also know, thanks to a growing body of research on the topic, that loneliness is not a matter of external conditions; it is a psychological state. A 2005 analysis of data from a longitudinal study of Dutch twins showed that the tendency toward loneliness has roughly the same genetic component as other psychological problems such as neuroticism or anxiety. Still, loneliness is slippery, a difficult state to define or diagnose . . . various research studies have shown loneliness rising drastically over a very short period of recent history. A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans — about 60 million people — are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly of an epidemic of loneliness.

Any questions?  Well I have about one or two dozen, grade A large ones. But I will not launch into them here. The words that rivet me from The Atlantic instead are narcissistically densely networked: wuff, that is an evocative mouthful.

I am convinced that I am over-networked. I am willing to take Step One to deal with this conundrum. In fact, like a compulsive consumer, I view myself sometimes as one of the dozens of eggs standing at quiet attention, with propped up assistance from foamy cartons in a chilly Dairy world. E-Mail, Facebook, Blogging, Texting. Hoarding new apps. Almost a 24/7 indulgence on my part. But I am not of a mind that my messy, lengthening life among the savage micro processors has been scrambled into powerlessness -- or sunk into the sinkhole valley of lonely laptop reboots. Like overeaters with their foodstuffs, I seek out the social media, and the consequent connectivity, with others: to this I plead guilty -- to the disembodied and embodied. Facebook and my Text-o-Matic smartphone are not stalking me.  There are no Crackberry monsters lurking low in my closet; they are just make-believe. Like most of my co-human beings, I am thinly cracked here, dented there, chipped in crucial places, as brittle as the ego of an alcoholic in denial: but the fissures and  the escaping proteins and the dripping sticky contents of my past and present are not always perceivable. These problems get more pronounced internally with each dawn, an ennui-inducing syndrome -- like my brain on drugs and in the line of fire for that slamming fry pan. But honestly, many days turn out pretty good, thank you. I believe I resist the penchant to stalk and be stalked. Is this a sad case of narcissistic nay-saying on my part? Hmm . . . Where is Dr. Freud when one really needs him?

Marche's recollection of a critical scene in the Oscar-crushing movie The Social Network, makes the recent Atlantic magazine piece a true keeper, a blue ribbon champ.

In that scene, its hot bitter sting lingering awhile after the film has finished up, the founder of Facebook sits alone in the dim glow of a computer monitor in a spare bedroom. Wealthy beyond fantasy, the piper at the lead of a gazillion online subscribers, a young man idolized by a new breed of digitized social communicators: reluctantly he, then impulsively he, presses down on the Friend Request command of his sensational software invention. One chick in a ponderous sea of creatures, Mark Zuckerbeg's former girlfriend, is the intended target of his Friend Request impulse. He sits. Stares expectantly. Does not move in the glow.  He is a hidden-away, cracked, and quietly oozing egg in a worldwide carton of  virtual lookalikes.  She does not reply. It's maddening. She does not acknowledge. He taps impatiently, tentatively, on his PC keyboard. Still, she does not answer: but then the movie ends. Zuck winds up with his stock still stare, like the depressingly warped and staring Bartleby of literary legend who, frankly, would prefer not to. Crushing, heart bumping, a feeling of emptiness settles in: who among the legions of desperately-seeking other good eggs -- in the depths of digital Dystopia -- has not felt that sense of unraveled and wireless emptiness and soulful longing, and a spritz of hope, for a timely response, any response, a proactive microporcessed surprise, that would validate this existential egg-ness? A person holding  a computer, which is a mechanized extension of himself or herself, part cyborg and part animal, peering in and through a flat screen, gets a show and tell on the microchip's schedule only, before all fades to dark.

The credits begin to roll on The Social Network. Psychodrama's over. The dark isolation of the movie is complete. It is time for everyone to get up and go. Blackberrys suddenly materialize in hands, as if conjured by unseen spirt guides. Check now for texts. Re-establish connectivity. U get my msg, dude? Swing back  into cyberland. One last lesson from The Social Network pairs inside the rotating film credits if you are not in too much of a rush to miss it:  the blues song "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" plays, the long goodbye, to lingering audience members. 'Hope my eyes don't deceive me?, 'cuz there is something going wrong around here.' Like this:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Y5BaurXMmMU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Greatness in song. This movie's denouement is replete with meaning. It is a symbolic mirroring of a new normal, a new take on the Beatles tune "A Day in the Life." You gotta break some eggs, bunky . . . to muddle along in this identity-squelching Digitalmerican farmscape.

The fragile egg in the foam cocoon leads me to a humorous anecdote by Woody Allen in his movie  Annie Hall, a cinematic paean to the bittersweet complications of life -- especially lonely obsession -- among all us chickens.

Woody:  My brother has been seeing a psychiatrist. He's not well. But the sessions are not doing him any good. He thinks he's a chicken.

Annie:  My goodness, that's terrible. But if it's not helping, why doesn't he just quit?

Woody:  He tells me he would, but he can't, 'cuz he needs the eggs.

Do my eyes deceive me? I think there's something going on around here. So, any questions?


The magazine article that was cited:  


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