Flaming FacebookTuesday, March 16, 2010
By the end of 1994 my friend Celia Duthie was talking about the World Wide Web and something called wimsey. I had no idea of what she was talking about. She compounded my confusion by telling me about a new powerful Sun Micro System device that was going to make her bookstore an on-line store.
In March of the next year with the help of Duthie I opened an account with a local service provider called wimsey and I was given my first e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org. I remember calling the wimsey tech support chap one day and he asked me, “It’s raining here on 4th Avenue. What is it doing by your neck of the woods?” Little did I know that pick-up-the-phone-and-call-for-tech-support would be a thing of the past and soon I would be talking to persons in Rumania who would not help me with my FTP blogging problems. We would be having no-language-in-common problems.
Then I went to Duthie’s with my wife’s IBM laptop (it was called a think pad at the time) and I connected to the internet for the first time. Duthie went to France and I decided to pitch a story to Equity Magazine about a daily e-mail communication with Duthie in France. The article was published in May 1995 as (Almost) on-line from France with Celia Duthie: diary of a techno-illiterate's battle to send an electronic letter. The techno-illiterate was, of course, me!
At the time I was barely able to use my computer. My friend Paul Leisz had written me step by step instructions which began, “Turn computer on.”
For close to 6 years I wrote articles for magazines and newspapers by using a Smith Corona Word Processor. I would print out my manuscript and then type into Eudora which was an early equivalent of Microsoft’s Outlook Express. One of the editors I submitted my stuff was Nick Rebalksi at the Vancouver Sun. He never objected to my format method. It was later around 2003 that I finally stopped using the Smith Corona and learned to use Word.
Shortly after getting connected to the internet I joined an Electronic Round Robin of the American Hosta Society. It was a de facto social network many years before the likes of My Space and Facebook. And it was a bit more that the contemporary electronic bulletin boards of the time. Before I joined that electronic round robin I had been a member of the plain round robin. I was part of a group of 6 hosta enthusiasts who would write in a letter and enclose it in a package that included the letters of the five others. Some of us were lazy and sometimes it would take a couple of months for the round robin to makes its rounds. One of the members of the robin was Alex Summers, the founding member of the American Hosta Society. He had wonderful and intelligent things to say but his handwriting was illegible! We were civil and I enjoyed the process.
The electronic round robin was much more direct and there were many more than 6 members in it. It was, looking at it with contemporary hindsight a specialized botanical community out of something like Facebook.
We all had opinions ( Is hosta hyacinthina a species Hosta hyacinthina or a cultivar Hosta ‘Hyacinthina’) and we rarely were uncouth. Those who were uncouth were flamed. It was fun and soon I was at it more hours than I should have been. There was one member of the robin (a friend of mine who lived in the US Midwest who decided to play a prank. He stayed up at night and was known to drink heavily. He had mastered the technique of having many email identities. With a couple of them he would write opinions contrary to his own opinions and then fan the flames between his two personalities. Soon our robin was a mess and people were insulting each other. I caught on (it seems that in spite of my low techno-illiteracy I had been able to read the clues). I called him up and he told me he was having a ball.
Soon one of our members, who was a lawyer, had hired another to write up a “constitution” that would regulate behavior in the robin. We were summarily given two days to sign or opt out. Many of us, including me, cited the constitution as being neo-Hitlerian in character and we signed off. My friend, the culprit, signed and remained. I never returned to the robin.
I past years I have been members of photographic forums (these are similar to the American Hosta Society Round Robin) and in no time photographers are insulting each other and moderators intervene and banish the offenders for days or permanently. I quickly lost interest in these forums. A typical photographic forum question might be, “Do you ever get sexually excited when you photograph a nude woman?” or “Which is a better camera a Canon EOS Jaguar Four-Door or a Nikon Lumix V-8?” The perennial, “Which is better digital or film?” garners tons of back and forth insults. If you happen to point out that a posted picture has flaws you are quickly told that your opinion was not asked.
A friend living in Spain wrote to me telling me she wanted me to look at her pictures but that she did not know how to send me jpegs. I was to join Facebook so I could see them. I reluctantly did this under my official first name (in Spanish) and with my mother’s maiden name. I saw her pictures and then became curious about Facebook. After a year of it I have gotten multiple requests from men in Barcelona and in Madrid who want to be my friends. Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer sent me a request for me to be his fan!
Perhaps what I dislike the most about Facebook is the unreal concept that those in a circle or community live in a world where everything is “gosh, that’s lovely!” and people exchange platitudes in increasingly Twitter-like brevity.
I don’t have a Facebook circle since I mostly read what some of those would-be friends write about while I “publish” photos in my wall with comments on them (all in Spanish). A few days ago I saw some photographs of a Spanish model/photographer with whom I e-mail some years ago. She lives in Madrid. These pictures were taken by another photographer. They made the freckled-faced beauty look older, rough and downright unattractive. I wrote a comment (I should have known better) that I longed for her to take more self portraits and that the photographer in question should perhaps switch to another profession. I was immediately lambasted with several comments that I should keep my comments in a positive way and that the photographer in question was really a good guy and was an excellent photographer. I stuck to my guns and wrote another comment (I should have known better!) that there are photographic standards and that at the present rate photography as we know it is drifting into a uniform mediocrity. To make it all worse I quoted my grandmother in Spanish. One quote refers to our Darwinian origins, “He showed his tail.” And the other “Ignorance is daring” is all about the fact that now anybody can “publish” any photograph, anywhere, any time.
This got me into hot water and the photographers around the model’s social circle went after me with a vindictiveness that was scary. I did nothing and called my own retreat.
In a world where we still have tests and grades in schools it is evident to most that there are good students and bad students. We cannot all excel in the same profession. Yet in Facebook all photographs are wonderful, exciting, interesting and nobody calls a spade a spade.
I cannot reconcile the idea that some can and some can’t with the politically correct concept that we all can if we try.
I am giving Facebook a skip. I should have known from my days of the Electronic American Hosta Society Round Robin.