Surround Yourself with Books, Save Humanity


Although I certainly have little patience for the fetishization of books as decorative status symbols, I have a deep affection for the physical, dead-tree book as a medium. Unlike an electronic device, to see and hold a single volume is for me to feel the thoughts and ideas it contains seething within it’s closed pages, like there is a flow of energy that is eager for a conduit through which it can propagate. I love that. And I feel it both before and after having read a meaningful book.

As a consumer of books, however, I also find ebooks almost miraculous in their convenience and utility. In a single device I can have literally thousands of books at the ready, which expands to millions if my device is connected to the Internet. I can infinitely annotate these books, entirely nondestructively. The device even provides its own damn reading light. Books feel great, I adore them, but to dismiss the ebook and particularly ebook readers like the Kindle is absurd.

But in one crucial way, ebooks’ greatest strength also is their greatest weakness. And I mean weakness, not flaw, as I’ll explain.

I’m thinking about this because of Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, a book that is all at once easy, enriching, and gut-wrenching to read. Among Snyder’s 20 lessons for avoiding life under some kind of Trumpian Reich are his recommendations that we a) support print journalism and b) read more books. Now, it’s fairly obvious why good journalism needs to be bolstered in times such as these, for it may very well be the last layer of defense we have from a media entirely made up of propaganda. He writes:

The better print journalists allow us to consider the meaning, for ourselves and our country, of what might otherwise seem to be isolated bits of information. But while anyone can repost an article, researching and writing is hard work that requires time and money.

That’s very clear. But by print journalism, does he merely mean deeply researched, sourced, and fact-checked reporting regardless of medium, or does he also mean that this quality journalism must be, by necessity, literally printed on paper? I’ll return to that in a bit.

Back to books. Right now, my 7-year-old son is enamored with a series of kids’ nature books in which one animal is pitted against another in a “who would win” scenario (like crab vs. lobster or wolverine vs. Tasmanian devil, for example). He’s collected eight or so of these slim little books, and he loves them so much, he’s taken to carrying them – all of them – around with him wherever he can.

“Daddy, I don’t know what it is,” he says, “but these books have just made me, well, love books!”

I’m delighted that he’s so attached to these books, that he has this affection for them. I know that wouldn’t be possible if he only had access to their contents on a tablet. The value of the content is no different, but he can show his enthusiasm in a real, physical way that a digital version wouldn’t allow. The objects, being self-contained with the words and pictures he loves, take on more meaning. And by assigning so much meaning to the objects, he imbues the content itself more meaning too.

What does a kids’ book with a tarantula fighting a scorpion have to do with resistance to tyranny? Let’s see what Snyder has to say about the contrast between books and digital/social media:

The effort [of propagandists] to define the shape and significance of events requires words and concepts that elude us when we are entranced by visual stimuli. Watching televised news is sometimes little more than looking at someone who is also looking at a picture. We take this collective trance to be normal. We have slowly fallen into it.

Snyder cites examples from dystopian literature in which the fascist state bans books and, as in 1984, the consumption of pre-approved electronic media is monitored in real time, and in which the public is constantly fed the state’s distortion and reduction of language, all “to starve the public of the concepts needed to think about the present, remember the past, and consider the future.“

What we need to do, what we owe it to ourselves to do, is to actively seek information and perspectives from well outside official channels, to fortify our consciousness from being co-opted and anesthetized, and to expand our understanding of the world beyond the daily feed. Snyder says:

When we repeat the same words and phrases that appear in the daily media, we accept the absence of a larger framework. To have such a framework requires more concepts, and having more concepts requires reading. So get the screens out of your room and surround yourself with books.

But what if the screen is displaying the same concepts as those books? “Staring at a screen” when one is reading an ebook is a very different practice than staring at it for Facebook-feed-induced dopamine squirts. Even more so if the screen with the ebook is on a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle, which intentionally withholds many of the distractions immediately available on a phone or tablet. Heck, I read Snyder’s book on my Kindle.

You won’t see me arguing that ebooks are inferior to physical books when we’re talking about the usual day-to-day reading of books, hell no. But in the context of this discussion, think about how we get ebooks onto our devices. They exist digitally, of course, and in the vast majority of cases they come from a given corporation’s servers with the ebook files themselves armed with some kind of digital rights management in order to prevent anyone from accessing those files on a competitor’s device. (Not all ebook sales are done this way, but they are very much the exception.) When we buy an ebook, in most cases, we’re not really “buying” it, we’re licensing it to display on a selection of devices approved by the vendor. And so it is with most music and video purchases.

Those ebooks are then transmitted over wires and/or wireless frequencies that are owned by another corporation, access to which we are once again leasing. So even if you are getting DRM-free, public domain ebooks in an open format like ePub that is readable on a wide variety of devices, you probably can’t acquire it unless you use a means of digital transfer that someone else controls.

You see what I’m getting at. Ebooks come with several points of failure, points at which one’s access to them can be cut off for any number of reasons. Remember a few years back when, because of a copyright dispute over the ebook version of 1984 (of all things), Amazon zapped purchased copies of the book from many of its customers’ Kindles. It didn’t just halt new sales, or even just cut off access to the files it had stored on its cloud servers. It went into its customers’ physical devices and deleted the ebooks – again, ebooks they had paid for. Customers had no say in the matter.

This was more or less a benign screwup on Amazon’s part. Presumably it had no authoritarian motives, but it makes plain how astoundingly easy it is for a company to determine the fate of the digital media we pretend we own.

This is about permanence. A physical book, once produced, cannot be remotely zapped out of existence. While some fascist regime could indeed close all the libraries, shut down all the book stores, and even go house to house rounding up books and setting them ablaze, physical books remain corporeal objects that can be held, passed along, hidden, smuggled, and even copied with pen and paper by candlelight. If the bad guys can’t get their actual hands on it, they can’t destroy it. And it can still be read.

But for ebooks, all it would take would be a little bit of acquiescence from the vendor (or the network service provider, or the device manufacturer) and your choice to read what you want could be revoked in an instant. Obviously, the same goes for video, music and other audio, and of course, journalism. The ones and zeroes that our screens and speakers convert to media can be erased, altered, or replaced and we wouldn’t even know it was happening until it was too late.

Physical books, along with print journalism (literal print), come with real limitations and inconveniences that electronic media obviate. But those same limitations also make them more immutable. It fortifies them and the ideas contained within them. Though constrained by their physical properties, they also offer the surest path to an expanded, enriched, and unrestricted consciousness. One that, say, an authoritarian state can’t touch.

Here’s an example of what I mean, once again from Snyder, with my emphasis added:

A brilliant mind like Victor Klemperer, much admired today, is remembered only because he stubbornly kept a hidden diary under Nazi rule. For him it was sustenance: “My diary was my balancing pole, without which I would have fallen down a thousand times.” Václav Havel, the most important thinker among the communist dissidents of the 1970s, dedicated his most important essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” to a philosopher who died shortly after interrogation by the Czechoslovak communist secret police. In communist Czechoslovakia, this pamphlet had to be circulated illegally, in a few copies, as what east Europeans at the time, following the Russian dissidents, called “samizdat.”

If those had been the equivalent of online articles, they’d have been deleted before they ever reached anyone else’s screens.

There’s one additional step to this, one more layer of intellectual “fortification.” It’s about the act of reading as something more than a diversion, more than pleasure. Because if we only read the digital content that’s been algorithmically determined to hold our attention, or even if it’s one of our treasured print books that we read for sheer amusement, we’re still missing something.

Today I happened to see Maria Popova of Brain Pickings share a snippet from a letter written by Franz Kafka to a friend, in which he explains what he thinks reading books is for (emphasis mine):

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

We don’t need books to achieve mere happiness. To expand our intellectual and moral horizons; to give our minds the armor they need to withstand the assaults of misinformation and stupification; to be made wiser, more empathetic, and more creative than we are, we need to read those books that affect us, “like a disaster” or otherwise.

To fully ensure that we have those books, that they can be seen and held and smelled and shared and recited and experienced outside the authority of a state or corporation, they need to be present, corporeal objects. They need to exist in the real world.

So, please, do use that Kindle for all it’s worth; use it to read all the books that wake you up, blow your mind, and change your life.

But also, if you can, surround yourself with books. In a very real way, they might just save us all.

Twitter Tsunamis of Desperate Signaling

Alan Jacobs on the swarm of me-too righteousness online, in the form of “Twitter tsunamis.”

This kind of thing always makes me want to flee Twitter, even when I am deeply sympathetic to the positions people are taking. It’s a test of my charity, and a test I usually fail. To me these tsunamis feel like desperate signaling, people trying to make sure that everyone knows where they stand on the issue du jour. I can almost see the beads of sweat forming on their foreheads as they try to craft retweetable tweets, the kind to which others will append that most wholehearted of endorsements: “THIS.” I find myself thinking, People, you never tweeted about [topic x] before and after 48 hours or so you’ll never tweet about it again, so please stop signaling to all of us how near and dear to your heart [topic X] is.

Here’s one of the things I love about Jacobs. Even when he hates what you’re doing, he gives you so much benefit of the doubt.

Likewise, Freddie deBoer:

Indeed: sincerity, in these instances, is in abundant supply. What’s lacking is the understanding that good people being publicly sincere makes nothing happen. But what else are you going to do? What am I doing? What can I do? I don’t know. I don’t know.

I don’t know either, but I am more cynical, and while I agree there’s sincerity behind these tsunamis, I also suspect that the impulse to act on them en masse to no other end than to add a “+1” to what has been said innumerably is a true expression of vanity in the digital age; not much different than dressing in-fashion, only here it’s done with text rather than fabric, it’s joining the in-group via a conviction instead of clothes. It’s the yellow ribbon gaudily displayed by those who have never done anything to support a troop.

And lord do I hate it when people just type “THIS” and then a link. As though by doing so they have presented the final word on a subject, and can thereby bask in the glow of having delivered it to the rest of us.

Worse, is “THIS. SO MUCH THIS.” It’s the triple-dog-dare of conviction-bearing tweets.

DeBoer again:

The trouble with talking about right and wrong in the age of the internet is that our communicative systems are oriented towards communicating only with those whom we wish to.

There’s no risk in taking part in one of these storms (unless you’re a woman, in which case you’re going to get a lot of shit from assholes, because you always do no matter the topic), because you know in advance that everyone shares your opinion. I of course can’t read anyone’s mind and can’t prove anything here, but my deep suspicion is that hand in hand with the vain in-grouping of these tsunamis is the pose of courage, that by expressing such and such an opinion, which I know is shared by everyone who will read it, I have somehow really put myself out there in a vulnerable position, but dammit, I can’t remain silent about this any longer. Never mind that no one else in this 48-hour period is being silent about it either, and being not-silent in the exact same way.

Oh, except for this writer from a favored partisan journalistic outlet, who really nailed it, beyond all dispute. This. So much this.

Public Discourse, Public Persona

Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria counters the eulogy for Twitterwhich I responded to here, with thoughts about what makes Twitter valuable:

Twitter is a portal into public discourse, a tool that allows a glimpse into groupthink, and provides a platform to build your own public persona.

I have used the hell out of it for this specific purpose. When I began as a skepto-atheist blogger in earnest in 2008, still early for Twitter, I made a point of arbitrarily following almost anyone who had “atheist” in their profile bio, just to get the attention of a potential audience of net-savvy nonbelievers. I actually think this really helped, and I don’t think it’s something that you could pull off today, now that there’s a critical mass of both early adopters and normals using the service.

Today, I intentionally use it not just to vent or trade quips with friends, but to serve as a sort of marketing service for “Paul,” a kind of regularly-updated reminder that, hey, there’s this witty guy who’s always anxious and worried who writes pretty well. Maybe you will find that fact useful or monetarily valuable.

But I don’t know if that kind of usage, beyond that of celebrities, is what Twitter-corporate needs to stay solvent and relevant. It may, because while I’m a nobody, somebodies still do this all the time, and that has to matter.

For one’s own use of Twitter, counteracting my lament about dudgeon and finger-wagging, she recommends this:

In order to maintain the “good neighbors” aspect of Twitter, users may have to put up some good fences to protect their conversations from the wake of larger-scale shouting matches.

Right, which is why more often you see folks in the know recommending you start pruning your follows. TechRepublic’s Jason Hiner has a whole piece about this, where he even says he emails folks he unfollows to tell them there’s no hard feelings. I wouldn’t necesarily go that far, but I am already becoming more merciless about who I follow on social media. But there are still many who I’d rather kick out of my streams, but fear that fact being noticed. God forbid someone disapprove of something I do!

Twitter lists are key for this kind of curation, if you use the service as heavily as I do. There’s the big stream of everybody I follow, and then I have lists based on who I just don’t want to miss out on, or by topic/beat (like tech or politics). The problem is that, as far as I’ve seen, the only really good way to get everything I want out of lists and notifications is Tweetdeck, which, while great on the desktop, works only as a janky web app on the iPad, and not at all on iPhone. Time was I would tweet at least once a day at @Twitter to please, please make a native Tweetdeck client for iOS. I have thus far been ignored (see: me being a nobody).

Lament for a Pre-Dudgeon Twitter

The enemy of Twitter? It’s us.

Well, not me. But possibly you.

Here’s Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer with a eulogy for Twitter:

Twitter used to be a sort of surrogate newsroom/barroom where you could organize around ideas with people whose opinions you wanted to assess. Maybe you wouldn’t agree with everybody, but that was part of the fun. But at some point Twitter narratives started to look the same. The crowd became predictable, and not in a good way. Too much of Twitter was cruel and petty and fake. Everything we know from experience about social publishing platforms—about any publishing platforms—is that they change. And it can be hard to track the interplay between design changes and behavioral ones. In other words, did Twitter change Twitter, or did we?

Twitter changed, for sure, but that’s not the real problem. It was totally us that spoiled it. And, again, not me. But maybe you, and a lot of other people who came on board to (unwittingly I presume) find things that emotionally fire something up in them, and allow them to feel morally superior, either by dint of being offended or as part of an upright citizens’ mob against someone who said The Wrong Thing.

More LaFrance and Meyer:

…When it was good—when it is good—Twitter created an environment characterized by respect and jokes so funny you wanted to show the person sitting next to you in real life. Not agreeing could be productive, and could happen without devolving into histrionics. The positive feedback loop of faves and interactions didn’t hurt, either.

It can still be this way from time to time. The authors say that nobody “hangs out there” anymore, but I still do. It’s like a neighborhood you grew up in, and love and know intimately, but then the place starts getting developed and folks who don’t appreciate the place’s quirks move in and try and sanitize it.

So there’s Google+. I’m there a lot more lately, but as others have noted, this has a lot to do with the fact that so few people are there. That it hasn’t taken off with the general public is a feature, not a bug. The folks that are there, well, they’re not unlike those who were on Twitter in Olden Times. Early adopters, a little more technologically sophisticated, and eager to experiment with a new publishing platform. But of course, now Google+’s future is in doubt.

But in the abstract I prefer Twitter, because of its parameters, its limitations. The modern Web is too full of bells and whistles, of full-bleed images and dynamic content, of Choruses and Snowfalls. Twitter is (was) 140 characters of text, and we embraced the quirks and kludges that needed to be adopted within those parameters to make a little more sense of it all. It was simple, it was busy, it was a percolator of thoughts, both profound and profoundly silly.

Now, it’s people finger-wagging and high-horsing. Now, it’s people trivializing the grave and ascribing gravity to the trivial. Now, it’s high dudgeon as parlor game. Now, it’s a lot of sadness.

For me, I mean. Maybe not you.

I hold out hope that there will be a boiling point, where the finger-waggers become so chronically incensed that they’ll move on, and a little of what Twitter was might come back. I’ll wait it out a while longer.

Hey, there’s always App.net.

Sigh.

Big Week for a Topaz Paragon

It’s been a busy week for me on the Internet. Let’s quickly review:

  • I have new digs at Huffington Post as a blogger, for which I am compensated $0.00 annually, minus taxes. I have Emily Hauser to thank for getting me in the door. Right now it’s all adapted or recycled material from this blog, but I’ll put new stuff there eventually. I know you don’t care.
  • A tweet I wrote that I thought was somewhat clever went viral and has now been retweeted over 1000 times, which I think means I get a prize or become President of Twitter. I’ll just wait to hear something.
  • A post I wrote at Friendly Atheist did pretty well, I suspect.

And off the Internet, the iOS game Bejewelled Blitz called me a “Topaz Paragon,” a position which I believe needs to first be confirmed by the Senate, but I’m not sure.

Gorged on Snark

I was kind of on the same page with Tom Scocca and his anti-smarm essay at Gawker for the first chunk of it. He has some great zingers and I’m a sucker for a skillful thumb-biting at the successful intelligencia, for whom of course my envy is a deep, rich forest-green. But maybe 800 or so words in it dawned on me that, spirited as this essay was, it was getting out of hand. To say Scocca paints with too broad a brush is somewhat understating it. He’s attempting to reproduce a Seurat with a paint roller.

(The camel-injuring straw may have been the tagging of Mike Daisey, a Twitter-buddy of mine and fellow stage actor, with the word “fraud.” Mike screwed up royally with his whole This American Life episode, but classifying him in total as a fraud despite the astoundingly high quality of his body of work and the sincere passion with which he pursues the most difficult moral questions of our time, well, it showed me that Scocca was perhaps not to be taken all that seriously on this topic.)

Let me get to the premise, though. I’m not interested in the specific definitions of “smarm” and “snark” per se. They both roughly describe a flavor of communicating in which a message or statement is delivered in a way that implies the moral and intellectual superiority of the speaker. Sarcasm is usually involved, and the thrust of the message seems intended on taking any perceived failing of a given person, and treating it as definitive evidence of that person’s lack of value as a human being. The Gawker network swims in this attitude, and from my experience it’s the dominant currency on Twitter. Indeed, in the tweetosphere, there are some circles in which a timeline can begin to seem like a contest of who can exude the most cynicism for its own sake, who can appear to hover the farthest above the absurdities these silly “others” seem to be engaged in (political journalists and insiders is one in which I see this all the time, for example).

It is never constructive, but entirely destructive, as in; meant to dismantle or erode any integrity the subject of one’s ire or cynicism might possess.

In the hands of some, this mode can be executed smartly and entertainingly, but it must be in managable doses. But as it becomes a more and more dominant form of communication generally, especially online, it becomes poisonous. The air becomes thick with various groups’ and individuals’ revulsion for each other. Maybe the best word for it isn’t that it’s smarmy or snarky. It’s snide. Scocca’s piece is snide.

This bit from a rebuttal by Malcolm Gladwell caught my attention for this very reason. I, like many within the skeptosphere, have my issues with Gladwell (“turns out…”), but he’s got this one fairly spot on, and he uses a different term altogether that cuts to the bone a bit:

What defines our era, after all, is not really the insistence of those in authority that we all behave properly and politely. It is defined, instead, by the institutionalization of satire. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and “Saturday Night Live” and, yes, Gawker have emerged, all proceeding on the assumption that the sardonic, comic tone permits a kind of honesty in public discourse that would not be possible otherwise. This is the orthodoxy Scocca is so anxious to defend. He needn’t worry. For the moment, we are all quite happy to sink giggling into the sea.

It saddens me to think that an overabundance of satire may be what’s poisoning so much discourse, but in mulling that sentence of Gladwell’s, I find it feels rather true. Satire works best as an alternative, a clever contrast to the presumably stolid, milquetoast, absurd, or offensive status quo (which is perhaps why it was so desperately needed during the Bush years, for example, when so many things were genuinely so bad at so many levels). But when everything is expressed in satirical forms, there is nothing to contrast with. Satire cannot perform its function as a release, an informed refreshment from The Way of Things, if it becomes the very air we breathe.

And if sincerity is the only balm for overexposure to satire, well, we’re kind of awash in that, too, or, at least we are awash in sincerity’s bizarro-dopplegangers, sentimentality and overt righteousness. Which is a whole other thing.

I don’t really watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report anymore. True, I don’t subscribe to cable, but I avoid the avalanche of clips that are splattered around the Web. I don’t avoid them because they’re bad at what they do. Stewart and Colbert are masters of the form, and time was I would not miss an episode. But these days it’s all too much, and to tune in today is to simply expose myself to 22 minutes more of what I am already gorged on. I no longer watch or listen to some of my favorite lefty broadcasters anymore either for similar reasons – it’s one thing to report news from a political viewpoint, but it’s another to spend one’s air time gloating and guffawing at how silly one’s opposition is. And yes, fellow skepto-atheists, it may be why I don’t read your blog too.

I do snide sometimes. I do satire and sarcasm and snark, and probably smarm. All of them as forms and attitudes are useful rhetorical and comic tools. But like any tool, they have their optimal applications. Prince Hal advises us:

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

I’d love to be able to wish for satire and snark again.

The Facebook Trap

I feel trapped by Facebook. A recent Salon piece by Sara Scribner has rekindled my nascent desire to exit it altogether. Scribner comes to her own loathing of Facebook from the perspective of someone who, having escaped the cliques of junior high, finds herself once again in a social environment in which approval and validation are constantly sought as a matter of the normal course of business. Survival requires it (or so our lizard brains tell us).
I get that, as someone who has absolutely turned to the web to rebuild a sense of self I’d ceded to the demons of middle school. I’m very cognizant of this aspect of it, and it’s often in the back of my mind as I use it. But my beef with Facebook has little to do with trauma, nor does it concern the service’s dubious-at-best approach to privacy. It has far more to do with the content provided by those who populate it. You know, my, as it were, friends.

Frankly, Facebook is full of garbage. People post junk. I’m fortunate to have witty and self-aware friends and relatives with healthy senses of irony, but it’s just not enough. Facebook is a stream, a morass of dumb image-memes (those “Your eCards” things? Really bloody awful), pointless and poorly-worded rants, and eyeroll-inducing aphorisms or drippy affirmations. Junk. It’s like Wal-Mart mated with Hallmark and that baby had a baby with MySpace.

But I feel compelled to keep up with it on one hand, and I am compelled on the other hand.

It really is the only way I keep up with many friends and relations, and without it, I’d be truly in the dark about many of the people on in my life. This is entirely my fault, as I could simply make a point of getting in touch with these folks, but I am an introverted, antisocial, self-hating guy, so I don’t. In this way, the raw functionality of what Facebook is has been a blessing. Because it has achieved critical mass as a platform, there’s really no alternative that comes without the junk. I’m just not going to get my wonderful grandmother or a selection of my former theatre troupe-mates to sign on to Path or what have you. If I want to have a web-based platform that allows for frictionless sharing of photos and news and thoughts from those on the outskirts of my daily life, Facebook is the only game in town.

And I really have no choice but to be engaged to at least a very significant degree, simply because of my work. My day job entails heavy social media work, and so not to engage in this platform would be utter negligence. Plus, now as a “professional” blogger on the side, and one who harbors ever-to-be-unrealized fantasies of my music catching on, to eschew Facebook would mean to essentially give up on having an audience. My analytics don’t lie, and most of my traffic comes from Facebook.

So I’m not leaving. But what I can do is ruthlessly curate my experience. I can keep the vast majority of the folks I’m “connected” to off my main news feed, focus on a handful of folks I feel a need to keep up with, and try not to spend too much time browsing the damn thing to begin with (love it or hate it, Facebook is a time-suck once it has claimed your gaze).

While I think I’ve become much more adept with Twitter, my wife, for example, is a master of the form of Facebook. The witty status message, the ability to swerve away from long-threaded arguments, the active cultivation of relationships in a sincere manner. For my lovely bride, Facebook is a powerful toolbox that she uses very well. And I think for both of us, being comically and theatrically inclined, we enjoy the hell out of the dopamine squirt we get when those little red notifications pop up indicating likes and longer-form approval.

But back to Scribner. This is almost a side note, but I couldn’t let it pass. She writes in this same piece:

When I was a kid, I sometimes worried about what my incessant TV and movie watching was doing to my experience of everyday life. To make the day more exciting, I’d sometimes imagine that I was in a scene from a film. Even when I wasn’t actively daydreaming, I’d sense that my perception was being slightly altered, as if cameras were on me. Nothing too extreme, but just a nagging feeling of being onstage. I’d see myself from the outside; happy moments were occasionally tinged with foreboding – tragedy always interrupted joy in movies, right?

Holy crap does that ring true. I think I still do this, and I know it’s a byproduct of far, far too much TV as a kid. I can almost hear the underscore, the Wonder Years-style bemused narration. It’s aggravating when you know it’s happening. I’m not sure it’s happening on Facebook specifically, but yeah, I totally get that.