Bartlett Finchley, a snobby food writer depicted in an episode of the old “Twilight Zone” television series, is experiencing his own “deus ex machina” (literally “god from the machine”). Finchley’s machines are not doing what they are supposed to do, which is to make his life easier and solve his problems. The technology surrounding him in his upper crust home is rebelling. Supposedly lifeless inventions have a mind of their own.
In this episode, called “A Thing About Machines”, Finchley’s television (via a female Latin dancer on its screen), his typewriter, his landline telephone, and his radio, all modern technology in the 1960s world of Rod Serling’s magnificent science fiction and fantasy series, are all telling him the same thing: “Get out of here, Finchley.”
The curmudgeonly author, described by Serling as a reclusive malcontent, responds by busting up his appliances. Finchley throws a chair into the television screen, tosses his radio down the stairs and rips his telephone out of the wall, all to no avail. The machines keep sounding off.
Some of his devices use more non-verbal behavior to get their point across. Finchley’s electric razor menaces him with its rotary blades, and even chases him down the stairs. Eventually he is killed when his own car goes after him on the street and pushes him into a swimming pool, where he is so frightened that he puts up no fight and drowns.
The theme of technology turning against us has been a common theme in the last several decades. Movies such as “Star Wars” and “I, Robot” and other technophobic flicks abound. Serling’s Twilight Zone episode with Finchley, called “A Thing About Machines:” is brilliant in that it foreshadows this trend.
Most modern humans aren’t about to become Luddites, the 19th century folks who were so anti-technology that they did things like bust up factories. These films have had little effect on us as we march ever onward in our development and use of our conveniences. We seem to be more and more tied to our mechanical and electronic contrivances.
Not everyone is a technofreak. There are indeed neo-Luddites out there, but they are on the fringe of society. Most seem to be fed-up academics, students environmentalists and religious folks. However, they don’t appear to be organized and thus don’t show up in the media.
My critique of technology’s effect on our culture is not novel. It’s no secret that there is a love-hate relationship between humans and their inventions today. On the one hand, older generations believe that our young people are becoming listless, addicted automatons who lack critical thinking skills due to their overuse of mobile phones and laptops. On the other hand, these doohickeys have become such a fact of life and seeming necessity that none of us, including those who are aging, can seem to function without them.
This leaves all of us in a quandary. What do we do about protecting ourselves from the ever encroaching storm of electronics, software and overbearing machines?
In a free society, the answer to that question is not black and white. Like with many things in a democratic culture, we are left to decide those things for ourselves. That it is the beauty of our form of government. However, given that we are already overwhelmed with choices in our society, it’s not a nice thing to have another decision put on our plate. But I think we have reached a point in our culture where we have to begin making individual informed decisions on what to do about the impact of technology upon us.
This week I made a decision of this ilk. For the umpteenth time, I ditched Facebook.
Like my previous attempts at running from Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, this choice was somewhat of a knee jerk reaction. But I think the call I made this time is more informed. My will was educated by both my intellect and emotions.
My brain has been mulling over the Facebook issue for some time. I have come to realize several facts. Most of my couple hundred or so “friends” aren’t really my pals My friends list is made up of people with whom I was in a relationship with at one time, but no more. In a normal life, friends enter and exit. This is not true of Facebook. I have culled my list over time, but this method of trying to make some semblance of reality has not worked for me.
What is worse is that I have added people I don’t even know. As a result, when I log on to this social media behemoth, I am now subjected to the opinions, interests, friend and family life of people I don’t really care about.
I have also joined or followed various interest groups, meme producers, joke sites and news outlets. I’m don’t think I am alone in this, as the New York Times recently reported that about half of my countrymen use Facebook as a news source. But I also have my own set of other sites where I get entertained and informed.
In essence, I am now officially overwhelmed when I go onto Facebook.
Then there is the issue of how I feel while I am on the site, or after I leave it. This concern is not new. I am familiar with a study which revealed that people are depressed while they are scrolling through Facebook. One reason is that we compare. Let’s be honest. No one posts their dirty laundry on social media. (Well, a few people do, but it’s a bit unseemly.) It’s all peace, love, dove all the time. If you currently have little or no life, or even if you do, it doesn’t make you feel good when you see the pics of your “friends” in exotic locales or hugging their latest love interest as if they were on the old “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” program.
At the moment though, I don’t think depression is exactly what I experience when I am am on Facebook. Of late I have have felt more like Finchley did with his rebelling machines. I become agitated, angry and perhaps even fearful.
Thankfully, I have figured out why I feel the way I do. For many, social media has become a place where they can express their political views for all to read, if these folks choose to, or even if they don’t. Some of their opinions are put forth in the form of banner-sized pithy quotes and memes, all taken out of context of course.
As a news and commentary junkie, I find that I can’t help myself when it comes to getting involved in these posts.. I “must” read and even comment. This has bred even more negativity in my life. My fellow social media types comment back, and many come at you with uninformed, knee jerk and personal attacks. And I don’t even really know these people. Facebook for me has become an interactive microcosm of our media environment as a whole: extremely toxic.
Because I am such a media freak and due to my current life circumstances, I find myself on Facebook a lot. Add this poisoning to my already insane addiction to the news, and I get the feeling I am on my way to a slow death. One of these days, like Finchley, I am going to find myself in a deep pool, pushed there by the force of the computer machine. It is time to regain control of my life and spiritual, mental and physical health.
I think the trigger for my decision to relinquish Facebook was a message I received from a blogger whose work I follow there. I tend to comment a lot on his site. I think this is mainly because I agree with him for the most part. We share a lot of the same political and religious views.
What he said to me was, “Dial it back.” He was cordial about it, but I realized I had become like the dominating student in one of my language classes who wouldn’t let the others get a word in edgewise. He meant well, but to he honest, it just added another negative emotion experienced on Facebook: embarrassment.
I had already determined that I was going to back off of media, and Facebook in particular. This man’s request just sealed the deal. He and my own thinking were telling me,”Get out of here, Fowler.”
I have been away from Facebook for a few days now, and I have to admit it has left a void. The way I feel now makes me wonder if I had become a Facebook addict. Perhaps.
I now realize I have to “face” outward into the real world, not the computer screen. I heeded the call and I got out of there. I am now in the very beginning of a process to decide where to go. I am hoping I will eventually hear and respond to a voice that says”come hither” and it will lead me into a more enjoyable lifestyle.