It's a Guy Thing

The Facebook Paradox

Too much of a good thing makes you go blind! 

By Ian Kirke

Twitter = @ianjkirke

If you prefer Kellogg’s cornflakes in the morning your libido may take a knock when you realize that the cereal mastermind Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, allegedly, maintained that his creation would alleviate the desire to wank. It is true that he was, according to many historians, a little prissy when it came to engaging with pleasures of the flesh and promoted the notion that a bland diet was one of several methods in which the desire to masturbate could be lessened. Nonetheless, folklore led to the lingo that bashing the bishop or paddling the pink canoe would ultimately make you lose your sight. Recent anecdotal evidence typified by Kit Maloney, founder of female pleasure company O’actually, declared that a morning Barclays Bank improves levels of concentration, reduces stress, and even makes your skin glow. Having reflected upon this argument during my morning sprint through The Times crossword, chilled to the core whilst reflecting the sun handsomely from my bald head I am, on balance, persuaded. But in fairness to the good Doctor were his intentions that farfetched? Wasn’t he simply trying to protect us from our own tendency to act in often peculiar ways when we respond to our own fun time chemicals stored inside our brains? 

Arousal doesn’t originate exclusively from sexual activity. You can get excited, enraged, and shocked as a direct result of other stimuli including social media. A hot topic engaging in political, humanitarian, sociological or climatic issues, amongst others, neatly wrapped up in a colorful meme or punchy one-liner can often raise the heckles as they seek to steer the observer to one side or the other. The perceived good or bad. Extreme right or left. Leaving the middle ground of compromise, compassion, and collaboration marooned and seemingly outmoded. This is terrifying since these issues are almost always complex and nuanced and the vast majority of us are, I would argue, more centrist leaning once we have the complete picture. This propaganda has an immediate effect on our psyche since physical changes occur immediately. The heart rate increases, the sympathetic nervous system which orchestrates the natural response to a stressful situation goes into overdrive with a dumping of hormones directing blood to the main muscle regions preparing you to run away or fight. Blood flow to the brain decreases since the only crucial cognitive functions at that moment are limited to those two options therefore significantly downgrading decision making and enhancing impulsivity. Having then made a decision in haste the often-tribal nature of choosing sides propagated by social media makes it difficult to don another scarf. Phew! What the fuck ever happened to a slow time review of the Sunday newspapers whilst sipping tea? As the declaration, “I think, therefore I am”, coined by the French philosopher René Descartes, applies to us all, surely none of us would ever get drawn into such a circus? What idiot would fall for this notion? I mean, for fucks sake! Enter stage left … 

Sometime in August 2009, I dipped my toe into the new fad of social media. My company set up a Facebook page and I became an administrator. My name accompanied a grey silhouette and my details tab remained uncluttered since I had no intention of conducting any other activity. Shortly after going live, a strange thing happened. I began to get a flurry of ‘friends requests’. Even stranger still these unsolicited messages were predominantly from ladies residing in Yorkshire and the North-East regions of England. After double-checking that I had not inadvertently registered onto to a swingers site I entered my name into Google and solved the puzzle. The Ian Kirke they were seeking was an athletic Greek God looking professional rugby league player who was then playing for Leeds Rhino’s in the Super League. Once I uploaded my chubby little face the interest from the opposite sex up North unsurprisingly stopped. 

I had previously brushed it aside as something my kids did, but now, having seen the funny side and the volume of sporting pages, I was intrigued with this social media thing. Adam, my son, had over a thousand ‘friends’ on Facebook. Who the fuck had that many friends I chuckled as I struggled to use the fingers on both of my hands to tally up my immediate friendship circle? My daughter Lucy on the other hand was somewhat more elusive, locking down any attempt by me to interrogate her timeline. As a nosy parent, I felt justified in creating a proper profile in order that I could legitimately stalk them. A trickle of friends and old work colleagues then linked up with me and the benign bollocks of catching up with people I had never much liked in the first instance gathered pace. I joined the Notts County fan pages and a few Speedway clubs to keep up to date with the latest gossip and even ‘liked’ a few pages to benefit from news updates. The morning ritual of a scroll whilst having a dump became the norm and I was actually enjoying the experience. However, the wider I cast my net of friends the more I began to notice that the shit I had to deal with wasn’t just emanating from my arse. Being nuts was once a niche pursuit but now, thanks to Facebook at least, it was becoming mainstream. In the olden days political, medical, and humanitarian conspiracists were usually snuffed out before their bollox got any traction yet Facebook provided a platform for the crazies! How fucking stupid were these people? Wankers I thought and smiled as I completed the paperwork prior to standing up. Then the gravity of the situation hit me. I had invited these fuckwits into my life! The agony of then deciding to jettison them from my growing circle of cyber chums became a real dilemma. On one hand, keeping tabs on the nutters gave me a giggle and allowed a counterbalance to my views. As a seasoned reflector I appreciate the notion of exploring opposing views, triangulating the evidence, and reaching, I hope, a reasonably balanced point of view. Yet in the early stages of my Facebook life, I could not quite handle the psychology behind ‘unfriending’. Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver coined the phrase “context collapse” to edify the real emotion associated with, from a pragmatic point of view, a simple yet devastating click of a button. Indeed, being unfriended led to feelings of surprise, worry, amusement, and sadness. 

There have been three of four occasions where I have activated the delete my account option as I have got so utterly sick of Facebook. Every time I did so the process reminded me of what I would be missing. On dating the social media devil all those years ago I had made an unconscious pact. The flow of positive data, for example, the football and speedway feeds and humorous exchanges with the more sensible friends came with the negative spews from individuals who I had become connected to. Like a delicately balanced pendulum, I was firmly in the social media paradox: I can’t live with it yet I can’t live without it. On the one hand, I liked the immediacy of other social offers, a pizza delivered to my door, a taxi at the press of a button, eBay, Amazon, and so on. But somehow my mental reasoning balked at the thought of accepting my news agenda in the same fashion. Had this something to do with my education? Perhaps. Undergraduate work in Law followed by post-graduate research into criminology and criminal psychology had exposed me to the notion of delving below the surface and often arguing from opposing sides to form a more definitive rationale, even if my final conclusions were not shared by everyone. But that wasn’t the point. I could at least rest more easily knowing that my decision-making processes in life had a greater degree of rigor even if the resultant outcomes weren’t always spectacular. Yes, even thoughtful, conscientious, and deliberate thinkers can often fuck things up! 

The trigger point that better equipped me to personally deal with the Facebook puzzle was a political shitstorm that became mainstream around the beginning of 2016 and still engulfs the United Kingdom: BREXIT. A complex relationship between twenty-eight countries that engaged with trade, residency, security, research, health, finance, and a myriad of other social and economic issues gripped Facebook and was cleverly expressed, by the pro-leave campaign, in three words: Take back control. Explaining how to boil an egg would have a greater number of words. Yet that was the genius of the campaign which totally outwitted the incumbent Government and for a considerable time afterward paralyzed the mother of all Parliaments taking with it the heads of two Prime Ministers. The answer to how the fuck could social media do that is, on reflection, pretty easy since Facebook, in particular, had evolved into the information highways equivalent of a McDonald drive through. Give it to me short, sharp and at speed. The victims of this methodology are usually thoughtful debate, eloquence and, very often, the truth. The important stuff that Facebook has taken away from us without so much as a murmur. A multifaceted conundrum was distilled into, are you in or out? Would you like fries with your burger? Extra topping on your pizza? Coke or Fanta? 

In hindsight I rather stupidly allowed myself to be goaded by the more vociferous Facebookers and took it upon myself to offer certainty. Clear myths and darn right lies were often met with further entrenched thinking. Was social media making great swathes of the country blind to the power of rational debate? Had unabated wanking at the altar of Facebook proved Dr. Kellogg right? When Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” did he have a premonition that one-day humanity would seek to decide on matters of great significance by simply shouting utter bollocks? 

So, what have I learned that has better equipped me to circumnavigate Facebook World without having to leave it in a huff? Firstly, choose your friends carefully. Secondly, as Mark Twain so wonderfully put it, “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Lastly, heed the advice of another sage, Rudyard Kipling who created the ideal format to conquer most cases of fake news: “I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.” In other words, interrogate the information in your head and if there still remains doubt then that is excellent as it will encourage you to investigate further from reliable sources and not Steve from Scunthorpe who believes that COVID-19 is a hoax created by all the Governments of the World who suddenly decided to harmonize their thinking simultaneously. Or Colin the conspiracist who only has to prove coincidence to prove his 5G theory. 

The contradiction has always fascinated me, and this is, I guess, largely due to my legal background where most laws will have a defense, case law will often usurp the status quo, and the defense argument will always be at odds with the prosecution. Consequently, to counter the angst that Facebook has previously caused me I take great joy in rebelling when uploading a post. Plumping for satire as the primary vehicle of engagement with the issues of the day I am better able to maintain my sense of perspective and mental wellbeing. As a kid, I was on the shy side and to be the butt of any joke or the center of attention was too horrific to even contemplate. The child within still has a voice albeit this side of my personality has been moderated by the realization that a healthy dollop of self-deprecation doesn’t do the ego any harm at all. Taking the piss out of myself ironically makes me mentally stronger and more emboldened to leave my already shallow comfort zone. I am also collecting material for my future stand-up routine and what better way than to trial my material on the warmup circuit of Facebook? Since discovering that I can tag any location in the World to my photographs I must be confusing the intelligence services by regularly dropping into The Kremlin, The White House and 10 Downing Street. According to Facebook my current occupation is crocodile bait at Solar Whisper Daintree Riverboat Cruises in Wonga, Queensland, Australia after ditching the Hammock testing position. I proudly announce that most of what I post is 0% true and I wouldn’t trust the rest of it either. To have my page liked by Huawei is my ultimate goal. 

Now that I have my Facebook rules I can enjoy the good stuff that it has to offer. However, I remain alert as even with robust countermeasures a left-field attack can occur in the most benign of circumstances. For example, a recent and wholly innocent message, sent by me, to a contact on messenger seeking data for a forthcoming article subsequently became a posted screenshot with the title ‘WTF?’ encouraging a barrage of disparaging comments. An intervention by a concerned friend sought to calm the probable shit storm before the protagonist deleted the post. Yet the shock and awe that can be Facebook amplified the horror of online assassination even if the message and source are genuine. I have little doubt that any warped, malicious, and wholly false statement given the power of unfettered circulation will inevitably raise the thumbs up acknowledgment from some Facebookers. Scale-up this type of reinforcement and it becomes a truth. As the Nazi Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” I sometimes wonder if social media has achieved the status mooted by Karl Marx and finally become the opium of the people? 

Yet I would never want anyone to feel constrained by what I have rambled on about. Make up your own mind. Indeed, you may think why should we be worried? I would counter that by stating that we should be since life isn’t that simple. Why the fuck did we spend years at school learning stuff only to accept the easiest routes? How easy has your life been? As straightforward as a three-line piece of jingoism or a cleverly photoshopped image? Just remember that one day your way of life may be under attack with one-liners and smoke screens of shit. If you think I am overdramatizing the issue then consider, for a moment, the sage words of former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt. At a Wall Street Journal conference on 21st October 2020 he said, “the context of social networks serving as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended.” 

I think the cereal man got it right. Too much of a good thing may just be your ultimate undoing and make you more than just blind. 

Be a responsible Facebooker! Don’t be a wanker! 

© Ian Kirke 2021