Friday, March 13, 2015

When I Can Turn You Off

And with a faint click, he vanished.

It was a peculiar moment, one worthy of reflection.  I'd engaged with this particular soul exclusively online, beginning years and years ago at the dawn of social media.  Sharp and smart and interestingly different, his voice was worth connecting with.  It tracked across several different venues, and at times was fascinating and profoundly enriching.  In those days, his thoughts and his suggestions were rich and alive, his person both warm and thoughtful and passionate.  I remember some of those exchanges specifically and fondly.

As the years went by, the character of the exchange shifted, as things often do when personalities age.  Or perhaps it was the transition of media formats.  

In Facebook's funhouse mirror, my encounter with him evolved.  His was an outsized presence, but one that created less and reposted more.  His own writing and the output of his considerable mind faded.  In its place, an outpouring, link after link, meme after meme.  Less and less like a person in conversation, more and more like a neuron firing or a muscle fiber twitching.  His voice--his person--felt relegated to his own comments section.

Some of those passed-on things were fascinating.  Some were not.

Increasingly, they were not, and as the years progressed, they showed the output of a life increasingly in dis-ease, lost in the machine, a scattered entropy of conspiracy thinking and anarcho-nihilistic outrage.  Opportunities for exchange died.  I watched from the sidelines as his soul paced back and forth, back and forth, a caged panther in a fading roadside zoo.

On one recent repost, for reasons I do not know, I commented on what seemed a strange dissonance between the post--propaganda from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party--and his fiercely independent anarchistic worldview.  In response, a dismissive snarl and a snap, which in both tone and semiotics surfaced a simple truth that was already known to me.  

I was not talking to a friend, who would take that friendship as an assumed foundation for initiating conversation.  I was a troll, just a faceless assailant to be labeled, dismissed, and batted down.

I reflected on a response, or a conversation, but then stopped.  Here, a human being who would not know me if I passed him on the street.  Why continue?  Why respond at all?  Why maintain connection?  I could no longer find a reason, or the desire.

So click went the trackpad, and the connection was gone.  

It was too easy.

I had one less...what?  Friend?  No, not really.  

I'm sure that his humanity resides somewhere, where his life has places of warmth and friendship.  But I was not connected to that part of his being in any meaningful way, so much so that I am reasonably certain that my quiet disconnection will go unnoticed.  I was just one of thousands of "friends," so far over the Dunbar number that my blinking out will go as unnoticed as if Cor Caroli simply ceased to shine in the night sky.

It felt--oddly so--like just turning off a television, left on in an empty room.  Not the complex agony of setting aside a Thou, with the deep latticework of real organic bonds.  It was just the consumer convenience of discarding an It.

So strange, this new media era.

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