One question which I often face these days is how I get time to write in Facebook. The implication is that since I seem to be here a lot I probably don’t have anything better to do. Some people ask this straight out. ‘Don’t you have anything to do in the hospital,” they ask, and I tell them I don’t. But I think its time to address the question in some detail.
The short answer is that I really don’t have much else to do. With the exception of my parentally pressured schooldays I have filled life with huge empty spaces of time doing nothing worthwhile. Over the years these have included such useless activities as reading worthless books, staring endlessly at open spaces, cycling alone across town, wandering through library corridors, spending hours in coffee houses and bars and sitting with friends watching the traffic. Social media, particularly Facebook, is only the most recent of these actitvites, and like the others are not in any objective way rewarding.
Meanwhile my contemporaries have spend these hours in sports or scientific experiments or research or writing theses and science articles. They have gone on to become well known athletes, and businessmen, and scientists, and researchers, and hugely successful medical practitioners. Even the ones who sat beside me watching traffic went away after a while for more productive work, to be replaced by others. Not all of them have got along well though. Some of them are dead. Some are dying- we all are, but they are doing it faster. My own empty spaces of time have been interrupted with short periods of intense work spurred by deadlines, and this has sufficed to keep me in the periphery of things, not at the cutting edge, but not entirely off the scene either. Its a nice place to sit and watch the world go round and round.
Back to Facebook and why I write in it. The obvious answer is that there is no other place I can write what I want and get people to read it. But why should I want people to read what I write in the first place? George Orwell once wrote an essay called Why I Write and, being Orwell, he listed a few reasons. I could identify with only one, his first. He called it sheer egoism, the desire to seem clever, to be talked about. That is exactly why I write, the main reason I do. I posture in virtual public spaces with a desire to look clever, a somewhat pathetic aspiration when put baldly like that.
Posturing comes easy in the virtual world. With little sincerity I can pretend to be what I want from moment to moment, and these whims vary, as I choose from a never ending list of behavioral labels. Nerd one day, savage the next. Liberal or conservative, atheist or devotee, feminist or misogynist. Do I contradict myself from time to time? Well, so did Walt Whitman. I’m large too, and consist of multitudes. With Google at my side I sit behind these pretenses and appear wise, knowledgeable. Ah, Google, Google, how much do I love thee, let me count the ways. Don’t bother to google that one. Its Elizabeth Browning.
The good thing about Facebook is that I can cut down on the arguing in real life. I have been told I’m an inveterate arguer for minority cause. When five people say the sun rises in the east I tell them it does so in the south. All rot of course, but that’s what they say. Arguing sensibly in real life is tough however. I have great respect for people who go to television studios and participate in live debates. They seem to stay calm and collected even when proven wrong. They argue with data and without emotion. I would never be able to do that. In any argument my blood pressure shoots up, my voice rises to a shout and I lose my mind. I forget the data and become emotional. In a live TV debate I would probably be thrown out in no time flat. I must make it clear that topic does not matter. I can lose control over as sterile a discussion as the types of crops grown in lower Venezuela.
Take for instance the last time I met up with some friends over drinks. We were people who had known each other for over thirty years and were seeing each other after some time. There was a lot of love and nostalgia to begin with but things got heated up about some matter I have forgotten, and before long the standard of discussion fell to a level which would not have been out of place in a loading station at Chala market. We were shortly evicted from the hotel and I was thrown out of a couple of WhatsApp groups.
I can’t go on like that any more. I’m on the wrong side of fifty and have many incipient medical conditions. I forget the name of the famous surgeon who was diagnosed with an inoperable aneurysm in his brain (Google has failed me badly here). “The next asshole who gets me angry will kill me,” he said, and that’s exactly what happened. He got angrily up to refute something in a medical meeting, burst his aneurysm and fell, dead as a cadaveric organ donor. I don’t want that happening to me. Not that I have anything against sudden death, you understand. Sudden death at any age is a blessing. The problem is one may end up with only a stroke and be restored to paralyzed half life after one of our modern medical miracles.
I have decided to argue only in social media from now on. Social media argument is like correspondence chess, as opposed to the blitz variety of real life. One waits for a day or two to respond. One googles. One hones one’s arguments and when the time is ripe one attacks with data, utterly unemotional. The greatest thing about Facebook is that you can be rude to anyone you want, unfriend or block the better arguers, delete their comments and continue with yours. There are no friends or family in the internet, not really. Everyone is imaginary, a string of zeros and ones. In real life you would have to kill your opponents to block them. Or at least bash them up. Better, on the whole, to keep quiet.
To summarize, the reasons why I write on Facebook are first, as someone who climbed Everest said, because it is there. I have all the time in world and would like to fritter away some of it. The second reason is medical. Real life is too dangerous a place. You can get hurt if you ask too many questions or argue with the wrong people. You can also, if you have hypertension or an aneurysm, suffer a crippling stroke and never recover. The third reason, and this could be the most important one, is that Facebook is a place to posture, to strut, to show off. One can choose the avatar one wants, like Walter Mitty, and be all the things one never was and never will be- world class surgeon, discerning intellectual, great athelete, motorcycle racer, leader of men, poet, story teller, scientist.
I aim one day to get past all these primal desires and reach Facebook Budhahood, that realm of the truly elite, the ones who have no need to strut, the enlightened. I doubt I will ever get there though. Meanwhile I’m just having fun. I will be here till the fun runs out, as it surely will, sooner or later.