Temporary abstinence from the Facebook liturgical calendar, and some personal reflections

I'm a longtime believer in interventions in the (secular) liturgical calendar* of holidays and anniversaries, and I've blogged about this quite a bit in the past, but I think I am standing aside from the social media version for a while, at least a few months. No posts about MLK today; no posts about the history of St. Valentine's Day or any anniversary observed by more than three of my friends. Probably no obituary posts unless I have an unusual connection to the person. I'm going to consider the kind of commentary I post on news, pop culture, sports, etc. in light of this too.

Also: no judgement of people who do participate; in fact, I will probably comment, get involved in conversations, and appreciate thoughtful stuff. I've just been finding the cycle of point / counterpoint of these conversations wearying, even when they are nuanced and thoughtful. In some cases the cycle of enthusiasm / backlash seems entirely predictable and not like something I need in my life. Sometimes I catch myself worrying that the piece I posted at noon is not sufficiently nuanced for how the conversation has evolved by 6 PM, and then I'm usually disgusted by the hollowness and inefficacy of myself and the whole conversation, which is of course in a sense itself just a meta part of the backlash phase of the cycle.

Maybe I'm forgetting how to use Facebook. There have been lots of real changes in my life over the past couple of months, and I'm not sure how much I want to share. For the past many years I was a graduate student, and perhaps more significantly from the standpoint of social networking community, I was an active member of my union and student-worker groups organizing on campus against budget cuts and fee increases. Now I've graduated, and I lived in another corner of the state for a few months. Now back here, living in a new home, with two new short-term jobs, it's weird to realize that I'm not really part of anything that has a base anymore. I'm still friends with many union and justice in higher ed activists, of course, but I feel like an imposter participating in those communities, like an old alumnus hanger-on who must only be dragging around campus to relive his glory days. Ironically I still am working on campus, but in new campuses in transient roles. I suppose it's the dilemma faced not only by adjuncts (which I am, now) but also postdocs (which I also still am) and visiting / term faculty - not really belonging to a new life and a new place with a substance we can articulate and hold, we can start to feel, to put it a bit over-dramatically, like ghosts of ourselves.

Really I am a content-enough ghost; things are humming along, and flesh might animate old bones any day, now. In the meantime, we seem to be biding time rather than having much to haunt, and conversations that seemed meaningful and urgent a year or two ago start to feel distant.


* I suppose my use of the word "liturgical" may be confusing here. I consider secular holidays and major anniversaries to be part of a secular liturgical calendar in the US, in that they constitute a continuous cultural cycle of observations which, along with the news cycle, constitute a part of the infrastructure of US cultural life. The cycle is liturgical in the same way that Lent, Pentecost, normal time, and Advent are liturgical in high church Christian traditions: it is a backbone onto which various content can be programmed, within a referential range.

Social media has altered the interpretive framework around this secular liturgical calendar in some interesting ways. Debating interpretations of various holidays, pop culture and sports events, news, obituaries, etc. is a good segment of what the chattering strata of many political stripes do on social media.

My hypothesis is that social media discussion is in many ways in its childhood now in the same way that email lists were in their childhood in the 90s. Email discussion has never exactly grown up, but in the 90s things were raw enough that people ran around reminding each other of "netiquette" and asking each other to stop shouting when others would reply in all caps. Many of these behaviors have become much more infrequent, and with some exceptions, netiquette has become a series of widely internalized norms rather than much of an explicit project - not unlike real-life etiquette, I suppose. There have been a series of posts lately which are trying to reform the practices of social media discussion. I doubt that any specific proposal will be widely taken up, but like the 90s netiquette debate, I suspect the continuing conversation may lead to a gradual decline of certain widely annoying practices.

In any case, practices of interpretation around pop culture and sports events and the liturgical calendar strike me as both interesting and crazy-making; within an hour it is easy to experience excitement about an idea, disgust at developments in a conversation, and then find that the whole thing has been forgotten days later, when we're on to the next thing. Communities of interpretation can come to feel like comrades in a battle for cultural hegemony, at best, or like a futile distraction from the real world, at worst. So ... I'll be over here, watching from my little meta perch for a while, because up close this many overripe bananas can be overwhelming.