“Outrage!” and Other Tales of Emptiness
I read this morning the devastating story of Alicia Istanbul, a young woman who was just trying to stay in touch with her friends through Facebook when she was viciously discriminated against! Facebook unilaterally decided that it would profile the names of its users – ethnically, no doubt – and drop the banhammer on those whose implied nationality they didn’t like. Alicia and her sister were despondent.
When she tried to get reinstated, her emails and letters were ignored. There was “*no question* that [their] actions in this regard constitute clear and unmistakable intolerance and discrimination against [Alicia and her sister] because of [their] name.”
This retelling is of course a bit tongue-in-cheek, at least from my perspective. But this is the kind of language being used to tell the story. Ms. Istanbul posted the emails she sent to FB, from which I pulled the above quote. She lost access late Wednesday (4/23), just before midnight. According to her, by 1:35pm Friday “a lot of people [were] outraged over this.”
There are two things here. The first is that we may have differing concepts of “a lot”. Facebook has a couple hundred million users. That’s a lot. Ms. Istanbul has about 350 FB friends. Comparatively, I don’t think that’s a lot, but that’s just me.
The second thing is that I’m certain that these people were outraged, which raises a whole spectrum of depressing realizations about our culture.
In The End of Education Neil Postman talks about the necessity of “gods”. He isn’t necessarily talking about deities, though they fit the bill. He’s talking about those things that are bigger than us. Big enough to live for. In this society those things seem to be fewer and farther between everyday.
So we tend to fill this void with whatever will take our attention and reward our effort. In some very small ways, FB does this. But in many cases life seems to be so void of those redeeming, value-giving pursuits, that something so trivial as Facebook is all that remains. Which is why “a lot” of people would only need 38 hours to get “outraged” over two accounts being closed by error.
Why is it that such trivial things get elevated to this kind of level? One word: emptiness.
I’m not saying Ms. Istanbul’s life is empty. I’m sure it’s quite full of work, hobbies, family, and friends. But there’s more to fulfillment than a full life. We all feel it. It’s why we become obsessed with things of no importance.
It’s why we work ourselves into a fury to defend and spread the message of our particular parenting style, or diet. It’s why a natural parenting blogger can be assailed by commenters for mentioning that she likes watching TV. And why comic book fans feel the need to raise their noses at the movie versions, because they don’t show what “really happened.”
Ecclesiastes tells us that God put eternity into the hearts of men. Our hearts are searching for something lasting. And until we take hold of it, we’ll latch on to whatever transient thing blows our way.
Some things (like World of Warcraft), last longer than others. A few (like environmentalism, or politics) actually have some significance. But nothing we do is eternal. No job, no hobby, no gadget. If we want lasting fulfillment, there is just one thing we have to look to.