Swept Away by Information

Google Plus joined the information overload by announcing that members’ profiles would be mixed into the search engine’s results. Facebook is going public, which means making a profit by selling more information about you.

prayers tucked into the Western Wall of Jerusalem. Pre-Facebook days.

All that digging doesn’t bother me anymore. What does bother me is the amount of information people willingly, happily, and expectantly post on Facebook and Twitter, including:

1.  The posts from a woman with kidney stones on her way to the emergency room. Updates every five minutes. If I were on my way to the emergency room, you couldn’t force me to post on Facebook, much less update my pain. (No, she wasn’t a family member; this was a public stream.)

2. The posts–photos and descriptions–of a woman delivering a baby. Not an emergency, but a home birth. ‘Nuff said.

3. People on the public stream who describe their gastrointestinal illnesses, in piteous detail. Ew.

Cloistered Carmelite nuns at constant prayer--there are nuns praying day and night.

3. People announcing the illnesses of relatives, friends, or neighbors and asking for prayers.

4. People announcing their own diagnosis, often with medical test results, and asking for prayers.

There have been evenings I’ve been reluctant to go to Facebook or Twitter because it’s starting to look like a giant hospital ward, each gut-wrenching display of naked sorrow open to the world. All needing prayers, comfort, sympathy. I wish I had more to give, but by the end of the day, I’m often tapped out of empathy.

I’m a life and creativity coach, and often spend much of my day in the company of people and their troubles. When I arrive at Facebook, my empathy is circling the drain. I want the “Norm!” of Cheers, and get Robert Oppenheimer’s  Death, Destroyer of Worlds speech instead.

Yes, I understand that Facebook is there for people to be themselves, and

Buddhist nuns using prayer wheels to send more prayers into the universe.

I’m hoping that includes me. I agree with the essayist Sloane Crosley who says, “The entire world has become this Dickensian series in which you are not visited by three ghosts but by eight million ghosts. . . . I see things about people that I don’t necessarily want to see.”

Health insurance companies no longer need to snoop through doctors’ files; they can just run a swab around Facebook for freely-confessed indulgence, illness, pre-existing conditions and reasons to drop you. Maybe they are way ahead of this thought already.

If it’s difficult to untangle yourself from electronic friends, it’s also difficult to stop translating electronic emotions into your heart and soul. I need a way to detach myself from the misery that pours out of my screen every night and sloshes into my journal and dreams. Worst of all is that all of these sad stories seem real enough to be from people I know instead of just “like.”

I hope people find comfort when they post their miseries for everyone to stumble across on the update feed. I also hope they won’t miss my comment  (I simply can’t “like” a post on impacted wisdom tooth removal) as I close out Facebook and go slink down the hall.

–Quinn McDonald has added all of Facebook (except the people who ask her to feed their cows on Farmville) to her nightly prayers.

29 thoughts on “Swept Away by Information

  1. I liked this post so much that I posted a link on my Facebook page. I’d like other people who might look at my posts to see what is really happening in cyberspace. But then most of them already know and it’s just me who is getting new information,

    I’m one of the people who read FB about once or twice a week. And some of the posts are embarasing. I don’t know that I would ever post my dissatisfaction with my employer or let the world know that I took a mental health day off work.

    I’m enjoyed all the comments so far to this post. I want you to know that I have gotten so much feel-good information from your blog in the last few months. Is your writing getting better or am I in a better place to receive the information? Whatever the answer, your writing style is encouraging. And speaking of writing style, I followed the link for one of your contributors recently (can’t think of her name and if I go look, I’ll lose this “comment”). I subscribed to her blog posts, also. Something to do with writing memoir. I think it will be a great help to me since I journal a lot but need MORE in my life.

    Keep up the great work. BTW, I still read your Somerset Studio articles from my previous subscription. You’re good, lady!!!

    Thanks for the prayers,
    Marrianna in Flagstaff, AZ, where it’s so darn cold!!!

    • I’m humbled and so very grateful for those comments, Marianna. I write every day because it’s the only way I know to keep in writing shape. My writing style has become a lot less formal over time, because I started writing right after the world cooled, when we wrote formally. I should read FB less. You are a good example to me on that account. I think the “more” you need in life is meaning-making. We all need it.

  2. Quinn, You are so right. I am a retired health professional. Health Care professionals are mandated to follow the “Privacy Act”. We as consumers sign many documents re this “Privacy Act”, being entirely adamant about our privacy. Then, guess what? we spread it all over the social media. What is wrong with this picture?

    • HIPPA just creates paperwork. Those paper make me crazy. Your relatives are stuck in an emergency, but the information can be passed on to your insurer, who can pass it on to information aggragators, often with additional information. But that’s another post. Yes, people often aren’t smart when it comes to protecting themselves where it counts.

  3. I’m wishing Facebook/Twitter weren’t considered the way to communicate. I’m OK with the newsy info but please, no hernias or car crashes. Though cows are the strong silent type, Quinn — sure you don’t want to milk mine when I go on vacation?

    But here’s a serious question. What happens if I delete FB/Twitter? Is it as important as claimed by the social media folks? I would so love to cross those off my to do list.

  4. I find the “Hide” feature useful. If people are being particularly creepy/annoying/oversharing, I totally hide them from my posts for a few days. Or forever, depending.

  5. My FB firends really are friends so fortunately I don’t get and whinging or whining or day-to-day trivia – I think I’d close my account or unfriend a few people if they did! Some people just can’t/don’t/won’t change and see how amazing life is – hardships and all.

    Nearly 20 years ago I read ‘never try to teach a pig to sing, you waste your time and annoy the pig’ in Dawn Steel’s book ‘They Can Kill You, But They Can’t Eat You’. This has helped me a great deal over the years when I worked in a field where it was easy to become emotionally depleted, but you’ve got to check it really is a pig of course! (Please, I do know pigs really are sensitive and intellingent animals – but that was the saying.)

    I think that if someone is happy wallowing in misery or ignorance leave them to it but be an example of a better way of being. If however they are truly miserable as opposed to happily miserable, I’ll do something about helping in what ever way I can.

    As for the news, if I understand the history and politics behind it, I seldom read the details. Does that sound harsh? A heart can only bleed so much and keep beating.

    • You seem to have a very healthy view of how to manage the different aspects of on- and off-line life. Thanks for telling us–pigs and signing and all! It does make a more simple sense spelled out that way.

  6. Yes, the constant barrage of negativity, illness, headaches, fights with family, misbehaving kids, etc., etc., etc., is annoying, at best. I like using FB to keep up with artist “friends” and to see and share photos with friends and family. I can’t imagine updating FB on the way to the hospital or while admitted, but NUMEROUS people continue to do so. I deal with regular kidney stones and trust me, if someone is updating on the way to the hospital with a stone, then they aren’t in enough pain to be going to the hospital. Same with a recent family member dealing with debilitating migraines. I wonder, how can you feel so awful to be admitted multiple days but still update FB on a regular basis? My sympathy only goes so far in that situation.

    Sometimes I feel cold and heartless, wondering if I’m just getting old and cranky! I realize FB can provide an outlet or opportunity for rare situations or special circumstances but they need to be just that…rare.

    And don’t get me started on these young people, and possibly older, venting about how much they hate their jobs and then wondering why they can’t find a quality, well-paying job. Hmmmm

    • Those mixed feelings you have are the very ones I’m trying to sort out. I’ve got compassion exhaustion, but then I feel like a heel if I turn away or don’t offer prayers. But I do agree totally that no one needs to post on their way to the hospital. I just don’t understand the whole gestalt of attention-wanting.

  7. There’s a great line in the movie, Easy A, where the teacher is talking to the main character, a girl in his class, and he says, “I don’t know what it is about your generation’s fascintation with documenting your every thought, but I can assure you, they’re not all diamonds… Roman is having an okay day and bought a Coke Zero at the gas station, raise the roof?…who gives a rat’s ass?” That sums it up well I think!

    I don’t really get the attraction of facebook or twitter. I’ve had a facebook page for a few years because someone sent me an invite and I couldn’t see what it was unless I said yes. Now I have over 100 friends but no profile, no photos, I didn’t use my real last name and I have never clicked on like for anyone’s comment about anything!

    It’s funny that people complain about postal rates going up, yet they think nothing of paying hundreds of dollars to buy a new phone that they don’t use to “talk” to anyone and hundreds more to access the web and then type their every thought to anyone who takes the time to read it and then want all these privacy acts enforced!

    • I love that quote–and that’s exactly what I meant. We are making our every act publicity worthy, and it’s simply not. And I secretly believe the NSA doesn’t need all the spy equpment, they could just get a FB account and follow everyone!

  8. The good part of the situation is that they get it out of their system.
    The bad part of the situation is that we get it into ours.
    Maybe we (and that is you and myself) could stay out of FB when we are running low of energy… or we might join the mainstream and ask for prayers. 😉

  9. Using the web doesn’t necessarily mean public exposure of what you do (online as well as offline).

    If you’d like an advertising-free search experience, try this:
    http://duckduckgo.com/
    They don’t save your search history, sell it to other sites, or aggregate your searches, location, and online activity, all of which Google does. (Remember when you use Google, YOU are the product they’re selling. Not that that can’t be a good deal, as long as you know what you’re doing.)

    You can generally remain as “non tracked” as you want to. Here are some more tools, many of which just plug into your browser.
    http://donttrack.us/

      • Well, the beauty of it is that you don’t have to trust me at all!

        Besides, your secret information just isn’t that valuable to anybody I’ve tried to sell it to. “Artist’s messy studio secretly very organized” apparently won’t sell many tabloids. If you could maybe convince somebody to see The Four Volkswagens of the Apocalypse* in one of your monsoon papers, that might help! Or, well, hurt, depending on your point of view.

        *(come on, horses in 2012??)

  10. I wonder if the people who expose themselves like this need a shoulder to cry on, and are not getting attention from friends and family who are too busy exposing their own problems on FB? There is also much confusion around what a “friend” on FB means. Either way it shows how cut off from each other we have become over the last 150 years. The global village is vast, but the local village used to be small, comforting and supportive, and there were people around who would step in and help without thinking about it first, because everyone knew every one, and most were related way back when.
    Unfortunately FB and Twitter are not a very good or sympathetic substitute for anyone who’s life is so out of balance. And if popularity depends on how many hits/pokes/prods or retweets you get, its not going to improve any time soon.

    • I think that part of being a “friend” on FB is responding, so the people who post their problems know that they will get some standard sympathetic sounding responses. And “news” –which is now often just opinion and sensationalism –has taught us to put out the worst for a big response. I wonder if the comfort feels comforting, though. Or is the whole experience kind of shallow!

  11. Hear, hear. I think most annoying and awkwardness-causing are those folks on public transports who talk about very intimate things over a mobile phone. And not necessarily about their own issues but what their friend/spouse/relative is going through. I can always turn off the computer but I can’t get of the train until I reach my destination.

    I just love that caption of the first picture. ‘Pre-Facebook days’ 😀

    • Isn’t that the worst? Hearing all that when you don’t want to. When I lived on the East Coast, there was a “quiet car” on Amtrack and it was always full. There must be other privacy-respecters. Thanks for reading the caption. The Western Wall still gets requests stuffed in. But I liked the idea that it was a way to do what we do now, but silently.

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