Here’s a smattering of the music I’ve posted on Facebook in the past couple of years, excluding my own stuff.
One of the purposes Facebook served for me over the years was to be the place where I could share little observations, quips, links, and other things that I had no where else to put. It was my repository of miscellania, and my discussion group for the same. Now, as I clear out my Facebook account, I’m converting my most memorable Facebook posts into entries here on my blog. But what to do with all the material that doesn’t seem weighty enough for a blog post? The idea of discarding all that stuff makes me sad, even though I’m not convinced it has much value when taken outside its original context on Facebook.
I’ve found comfort in the idea of gathering my remaining Facebook scraps (I say “remaining” because I’ve already deleted much of my Facebook content over the years in previous attempts to escape) into a little anthology that I’ll publish here on my blog. Hence what follows is a selection of random bits and bobs from Facebook that have stuck around.
In looking over ten years of Facebook posts, I come across the one that was the most emotional for me to write and the one that still brings me the greatest sadness.
September 21, 2016
As a high school student in America in the 90s, I was required, compelled, forced to study subjects such as Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Yes, I was interested in these subjects, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter: if I had been perpetually truant, I could have found myself in juvenile court and my parents could have been subject to fines and legal charges. I spent countless hours of my youth attending required classes, doing homework, and studying for tests in the aforementioned subjects. I was graded and ranked based on my performance, and my success in getting into college was affected by those marks on my transcript. My future depended, in part, on how well I understood basic science. The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community – those people who discovered all that stuff in my science textbooks – is that anthropogenic climate change is a grave threat to humanity. One of the 2016 presidential candidates believes that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. If that person is elected president, I will respectfully ask American society for a refund for all that time I was made to spend in science class in my childhood. What was the point? Do we as a nation really not believe the things we force our children to study, the things we give them homework and tests on, the things we grade and judge them on, the things we tell them they must understand if they are to succeed? Political allegiances and other matters aside, are we really willing to elect – to even contemplate electing – a leader who does not believe the basic science on which our future depends?
I wrote the post because I felt betrayed, and two years later the feeling of betrayal has only deepened. The post was ostensibly about the 2016 election but really it was about the way our society demands that children become literate in science while at the same time electing leaders who ignore, misinterpret, or brazenly contradict science when it matters the most. This situation existed well before 2016, of course, but as a young person growing up in the 1980s and 1990s I had faith in the system. I expected that the system that was forcing me to do a homework assignment on Boyle’s gas law instead of riding my bike after school was a system that would protect me by applying Boyle’s gas law when it needed to be applied, and ditto for the science that has come since Boyle. I expected that the system that was demanding my time and energy as a student would repay me by defending my future. It would do that by cultivating and practicing the very knowledge it claimed to want to transmit to me. I never imagined that the whole thing could be a ruse, all of those standardized tests, bearing their official titles and addresses:
NEW YORK STATE REGENTS EXAM
The University Of The State Of New York
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT
Office of State Assessment
Albany, NY 12234
Those test booklets with their pages and pages of questions and multiple choice bubbles, it all seemed so serious and so official, and yet it seems to have been a kind of joke, given that the system doesn’t respect what it tested and graded us on, consuming so many hours and days and years of our youth.
I don’t like saying that I feel betrayed because, of course, my own personal feelings are insignificant in comparison to the threat we face as a civilization. If negative emotions are rarely productive, I feel I should find a positive way of looking at all this and I should focus on the way forward. But right now I need to scream.
In the past few years I’ve enjoyed photographing fireworks when they happen over Boston harbor and sharing the images on Facebook. I feel these photos had become part of my Facebook identity. Looking back over my history there, I also see dozens of post about my musical projects and I remember struggling to describe the technical details of those projects in a way that might be accessible to my non-musician friends. With fireworks, I could just post an image and rely on the fact that people would want to see it because it’s the sort of thing people want to see. It always felt kind of decadent and fun to share something with incontrovertible popular appeal. Living in East Boston I have a good view of harbor fireworks and I end up seeing fireworks so often that I sometimes think “Not again!” But this past New Year’s Eve of 2019, the weather was rainy, the show was abbreviated, and I couldn’t get any decent shots, so I now feel a renewed interest in photographing fireworks the next time I have the chance.
Looking over my earliest Facebook posts I find one from October 22, 2009 where I wrote that I “stumbled into a Daumier exhibition at the Boston Public Library and saw the most vivid depiction of a headache ever rendered.” It wasn’t technically my first post but it was the first that received any comment, and in a way it was my introduction to the promise of social media. Before I became active on Facebook I would have expected that only a small fraction of my contacts, the ones with the most bookish inclinations, would want to hear about a nineteenth-century lithograph that I had seen in a library. If I chose to share a Daumier image with anyone, it would have been someone I thought of as an art history buff: no one else would care, I assumed. But when I posted this image on Facebook, the museophiles among my friends ignored it while some acquaintances I considered to be pop culture mavens found it hilarious. Suddenly I was having a conversation about a kind of thing I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to discuss, with friends I hadn’t known would care. It was slightly thrilling, and it was a little reminder for me of a big lesson: to not assume how others will respond to an image, an idea, a piece of music, anything, and to not expect people to conform to whatever categories I might have assigned them. And it was the first moment when I saw the potential of Facebook and other social media to change my life, allowing me to not only share my own observations more freely, but to discover unexpected points of common interest, helping me know people better and feel more connected to my friends and the world at large. All I had to do, it seemed, was keep sharing Daumiers! Ten years later, the practice of instantly broadcasting any random tidbit one encounters has become so standard that it’s startling to remember a time when I would have hesitated to post this image for fear that no one would care. (Now the question would be: what hashtag should I choose and what group should I share it in to get the most likes?) But ten years later, has the promise of knowing people better and feeling more connected been borne out? I can now bump into someone I’ve only met once or twice and I can recall that I’ve been seeing his food pictures on Facebook for the past five years and that he had spaghetti last night and that his aunt recently passed away. I can also recall that he’s one of those people who has two thousand friends on Facebook and I’ve never liked one of his posts so he probably doesn’t even know that we’re connected there. Do I feel closer to this person and are we more likely to get into an in-person conversation because I have data on him, as if acquired by surveillance, and he might have the same on me? Certainly Facebook isn’t all bad and it isn’t all good. The point of resurrecting one of my earliest Facebook posts is just to remember a time when it seemed that Facebook could become something amazingly wonderful and transformative, so I’ll leave it at that.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London, via Wikimedia Commons.
If you asked me which topic I care most about, music, photography, or window insulation, I would list them in that same order, with window insulation being in a very, very distant third place. But if you asked me to identify the Facebook post of mine from the past ten years that has given me the greatest personal satisfaction, I would probably pick this post from 2014 about window insulation. It was satisfying because it had a result: in the weeks after I posted it, I learned that a handful of friends and acquaintances, including many who never liked or commented on the post, had seen it and had proceeded to insulate their windows because of it. Think about it, there could be cold air streaming through crevices in your windows right now, keeping your heating system in high gear and leading to unnecessary carbon pollution in a time when the existential threat of climate change is coming into ever clearer focus, and you can stop it (the air, at least) with some plastic and some tape.
January 7, 2014
I’m inspired to make a rare public service announcement. With this week’s weather in the U.S. you will definitely know if you have drafty windows. Insulate them! I did 3 of our leakiest windows at the beginning of the season and just completed another 5 last night (it took around an hour). The kits by 3M and Frost King are under $20 for five average-size windows and you’re likely to save many times that amount in heating costs. I can confirm that both products work as advertised, though 3M’s plastic looks clearer to me. I don’t want to presume that you haven’t already considered this, but in case you require a nudge to action, here it is.
Back in January 2018 my neighborhood in East Boston experienced significant flooding along with many other coastal parts of the city and region. At the time, I posted a few flooding-related photographs to Facebook and now, as part of my resolution to leave Facebook in 2019, I’m moving the material here. All three of these images employ the selective colorization technique that I wrote about in my post on Salient Color. They are all taken at the site of new condo developments on the East Boston waterfront near the Maverick T Station. The third image, “Sold Out,” was taken by Kannan T. and edited by me.
My process for leaving Facebook will involve reviewing what I’ve posted there and moving the good stuff to my blog. So here’s a start. Back in September 2017 I challenged myself to post one photograph each day for fifteen days.
Although photography makes up a large portion of what I share online, I feel a lot of internal resistance to posting my photographs. What gets posted is a minuscule portion of my growing collection. The resistance comes from a sense that the online world is a spectacularly bad place for concentrating on photos, and that to do justice to the images I love, I should make the effort to print them, frame them, and find somewhere to hang them, rather than taking the easy route of launching them into the noisy, crowded chaos of the internet. The goal of my September 2017 experiment was see how it would feel to bypass this internal resistance, suspend all my doubts, and just freely share my images for a while.
It felt pretty good. I appreciated knowing that my friends were finding some interest or pleasure in the pieces.
Here are the photos I chose to share on each of those fifteen days. On the first day, September 1, 2017, I posted three images of the same subject so there’s actually a total of seventeen photos here. To be clear, the photos were not taken on the days when I posted them; they are all older photos that had been waiting in my archive for a moment on stage.
When I posted this photo on Facebook, a couple of friends remarked in the most dutifully matter-of-fact way that someone must have gotten hurt on the seesaw and that’s why this sign must have been made. OK, OK, I get that it’s dangerous to stand on a seesaw. And if this sign indeed prevents some seesaw accidents, then I guess it’s a good sign. But whatever utility inheres in this sign is not a reason for me not to be highly amused by its design. I like how the circle-with-a-slash icon looks like some kind of hula-hoop, placed as it is around the stick figure’s torso only, not even covering the legs which are doing the standing which is what the sign is saying not do to.