Facebook vs. friends? (2)

More from the same essay:

Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls. The same path was long ago trodden by community. As the traditional face-to-face community disappeared, we held on to what we had lost—the closeness, the rootedness—by clinging to the word, no matter how much we had to water down its meaning. Now we speak of the Jewish “community” and the medical “community” and the “community” of readers, even though none of them actually is one. What we have, instead of community, is, if we’re lucky, a “sense” of community—the feeling without the structure; a private emotion, not a collective experience.

So information replaces experience, as it has throughout our culture. But when I think about my friends, what makes them who they are, and why I love them, it is not the names of their siblings that come to mind, or their fear of spiders. It is their qualities of character. This one’s emotional generosity, that one’s moral seriousness, the dark humor of a third. Yet even those are just descriptions, and no more specify the individuals uniquely than to say that one has red hair, another is tall. To understand what they really look like, you would have to see a picture. And to understand who they really are, you would have to hear about the things they’ve done. Character, revealed through action: the two eternal elements of narrative. In order to know people, you have to listen to their stories.

But that is precisely what the Facebook page does not leave room for, or 500 friends, time for. Literally does not leave room for. E-mail, with its rapid-fire etiquette and scrolling format, already trimmed the letter down to a certain acceptable maximum, perhaps a thousand words. Now, with Facebook, the box is shrinking even more, leaving perhaps a third of that length as the conventional limit for a message, far less for a comment. (And we all know the deal on Twitter.) The 10-page missive has gone the way of the buggy whip, soon to be followed, it seems, by the three-hour conversation. Each evolved as a space for telling stories, an act that cannot usefully be accomplished in much less.

Facebook vs. friends?

Being just about the only person I know who isn’t on Facebook, I was interested in this essay by William Deresiewicz about human connection in the Age of the Twitterati. Some samples:

Facebook’s very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.

…Facebook seduces us, however, into exactly that illusion, inviting us to believe that by assembling a list, we have conjured a group. Visual juxtaposition creates the mirage of emotional proximity. “It’s like they’re all having a conversation,” a woman I know once said about her Facebook page… “Except they’re not.”

Until a few years ago, you could share your thoughts with only one friend at a time (on the phone, say), or maybe with a small group, later, in person. And when you did, you were talking to specific people, and you tailored what you said, and how you said it, to who they were—their interests, their personalities, most of all, your degree of mutual intimacy… Now we’re just broadcasting our stream of consciousness, live from Central Park, to all 500 of our friends at once, hoping that someone, anyone, will confirm our existence by answering back. We haven’t just stopped talking to our friends as individuals, at such moments, we have stopped thinking of them as individuals. We have turned them into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud.

Of course, there’s no necessary mutual exclusivity here, but I do wonder to what extent the one form of communication is crowding out the other. More later.

Bonobo – Nightlite (featuring Bajka)

Sitting in a cafe where this has come on, reminding me how much I’ve always liked what Bonobo (a guy called Simon Green) does. The strings in this one really make it for me, adding that extra twist of drizzly-late-autumn-afternoon-melancholy to the gentle swing of the tune.


the genius of Andy Partridge

Gold sun rolls around
Chocolate nipple brown
Tumble from your arms
Like the ground your breasts swell
And awake from sleep
Hares will kick and leap
Flowers climb erect
Smiling from the moist kiss of her rainbow mouth

Simply one of the finest songwriters around, and far too unknown in the US. Something amazing started blossoming in this guy’s head in the mid-80s and the albums beginning at around The Big Express and Skylarking and moving on through Oranges and Lemons, Nonsuch, and Apple Venus Volume 1 contain many gorgeously-crafted creations.

This is one of a dozen or so of theirs that gives me chills everytime. Andy himself says in this very entertaining, hour-plus-long interview that it’s maybe one of two favorite songs of his (the other being “Wrapped in Grey”). He’d come up with the chorus many years before but didn’t do anything with it – it just sat there in the recesses of his unconscious waiting for something. Then one day he found himself playing with these “earthen, lumpen” (as he puts it) chords on his guitar (which end up being orchestrated). They kept rising up the strings until there was nowhere left for them to go and then suddenly … that melody from a decade or more earlier leapt out, and “Easter Theatre” was born.

With no false modesty (entirely appropriately) he says in the interview that sometimes you wonder if you might ever reach the heights of the greatest songs you ever heard (he mentions the best of the Beatles at that point), and that when this one was finished he realized he’d got there:

You know you’re doing alright if at some point during recording a demo, your hair stands on end. Which it did when I reached the ‘Easter. . . in her bonnet’ section in the middle. Self fright or self delight is difficult to achieve at the best of times, but here, bang out of nowhere, it arrived in bucket loads. Every pore of my skin was smiling fit to burst. Where does this stuff come from? Surely it’s not me thinking these songs up? I live in Swindon! Maybe my right arm is an aerial picking up the practical jokes of angels or the whisperings of Genii. Surely my washing machine motor of a secondary modern school brain isn’t capable of thinking up songs like this?

(Stage left)
Enter Easter and she’s dressed in yellow yolk
(Stage right)
Now the son has died, the father can be born
(Stand up)
If we’d all breathe in and blow away the smoke
(New life)
We’d applaud her new life

“buddhism” or “dharma”: what to call it?

I’ve never liked the word “buddhism.” “Isms” tend to be belief systems; “buddhism” is not concerned with beliefs, even understands them as, ultimately, obstacles. Worse still, the word tends to perpetuate the false idea that buddhist practice has something to do with the worship of a man, the historical figure of Siddhartha Gautama.

The alternative approach, which many buddhists adopt, is simply to speak of “the dharma,” an inherently non-sectarian word. “Dharma” simply means something like “the way it is” or “the nature of reality.” It is a much bigger and deeper term than “buddhism,” which is historically and culturally bound. Perhaps we could say that buddhist teachings expound upon and embody dharma in an exceptionally comprehensive way, but dharma is everywhere and ultimately quite independent of buddhism as a concept. Within buddhism, one isn’t trying to become a buddhist but rather a buddha, a fully realized, fully awake being, having completely perfected both wisdom and compassionate skillful means.

So the benefit of using the word is that we can speak of dharmic qualities in people, practices, art, understanding, institutions, businesses etc. that have nothing to do with the narrower entity of buddhism.

The downside is that if the person reading that word is not aware of what it means or how it is being used, it may come across in a manner diametrically opposed to what is intended. I occasionally have used it and then immediately realized that the person I was speaking to must’ve understood it in the same kind of sense I hear phrases like “the Gospel” or “the Word of the Lord” or “the Truth.” In another words, as a sectarian word bound to a particular tradition.

So it’s a dilemma I haven’t worked my way through yet. At the moment I suppose I feel that, as a term for general use, “dharma” doesn’t tend to work so well, unfortunately. So I use “buddhism” (faithful to its Sanskrit and Pali origin, languages with no upper-case letters), and hope that its lower-casedness conveys some kind of distinction at least. (“The tao” versus “taoism” involves exactly the same issue.)

treat yourself…

…to a glimpse of some work of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s (who goes by the name Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel when he paints). His day job is a Tibetan lama in the Dzogchen tradition with thousands of students all over the world. And then he just happened to take up painting one day… Here are a few more that he’s done. Also here.

Meeting reality directly requires confidence in the fundamentally positive nature of our being. The more we trust what arises in our mind to come from this creative source, the more we can let the mind be as it is, rather than approach it with judgment, fear or manipulation based on our likes and dislikes. My hope is that my paintings communicate the beauty of this unhindered practice of free expression.

I attended a weekend program with him some time ago in Brighton, England but haven’t connected with him since, although he has a center within the state and usually visits each year. I appreciated his distinctively spacious style of teaching. And his ever-astonishing paintings, I find, one after another, stop the conceptual mind cold, startling it into really seeing. Reminding it of how to see, of the big view beyond any manipulation and rejection.

In each moment of awareness we encounter impressions of the outer world through our sense perceptions as well as our inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. When we are able to let this incredible array of experience be, without trying to reject what we fear or pull in what we are attracted to—when we relax into experience without trying to manipulate it in any way—we have a complete experience of mind, naked and unaltered. Painting, when it is free of such notions as beauty and ugliness or should and shouldn’t, can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the unfabricated nature of their own mind.

I wish to urge students of the dharma who may have forsaken their creative impulse in favor of practice to realize there is no conflict between creativity and meditation. Creativity can be understood, in essence, to be the practice of our own nature and that nature’s expression. You may find your way in to the nature through creativity; or you may come out from the nature to express creativity. Both have to be appreciated as the best of our mind’s potential.

This reminds me of something I was told Trungpa Rinpoche once said: that his teachings on “dharma art,” properly understood, were the highest teachings he had to offer.

The role of the artist is to stop creating and allow experience to unfold in a natural way – creative energy is innate and spontaneously present.