Garden of Evil

Facebook, so an introductory page declares, helps you connect and share with the people in your life. Facebook may also help you share and connect with the people in my life and, in fact, in the lives of half a billion people.

After we heard about privacy concerns earlier this year, this digital nation has turned from a utopian dream to an Orwellian nightmare in the blink of a screen.

About the time I quit Facebook, the networking goliath announced new controls to safeguard the privacy of those that remained. According to the company, everything reasonable was being done to mend an enormous bucket known to leak streams of private data. In the past, the medium exposed to the world everything from private conversations to unlisted numbers to the candid pictures of Jon Favreau and Paris Hilton. Sadly, these two have never been snapped together.

The measures came too late for some online citizens who evacuated the homeland that sustained them for so long. Prominent IT pundit Leo LaPorte broadcast his Facebook retirement from his home computer. ”That’s it. It’s gone,” he said to the internet. ”And I think that’s the right thing to do.”

The vision of a man severing himself from the social network is strangely moving. As he clicked ”delete” he had the look of a newly diagnosed diabetic who would never again feast on baked goods.

We’ve seen a call for a sugar-free online diet, for a fast from those networks upon which so many of us have come to rely.

In fact, it’s regarded as less of a detox and more of an assisted social media suicide. Sites with names like ”Seppuku” and ”Diaspora” point to a dissatisfaction with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, MySpace or any of the means by which we evolve our online reputations.

On the internet, trends flare and expire in a matter of hours. Often they don’t merit much attention. This suicide trend, however, is something a little bit different. The hot new thing online is not to give two hoots for the hot new thing online. It is, in fact, to seek asylum in the real world.

Leading Twitter Quitters and Facebook Fatalists have been prompted into action by concerns over security. When some wag fromThe New York Times noted that the length of Facebook’s privacy policy exceeded that of the US constitution, many agreed that perhaps withdrawing from social media seemed ”the right thing to do”.

That Facebook had doubled its efforts in defending privacy had become irrelevant. Online citizen are well past the worry that others might see their happy snaps. We have entered into a moral panic about world domination by Facebook.

For some commentators, Facebook has emerged as the site of the new apocalypse; it’s become a bit like global warming with a fan page. Users are now aghast that Facebook has a sense of entitlement to our information and has possible plans to use it for profit.

To those who have long resisted the lure of social networking, this anxiety could all seem a bit strange. That any company might expose or use information we have liberally and willingly provided is, really, no great surprise.

A few short years ago, I encouraged my mother to join Facebook. ”I’ll show you how,” I said. She refused for two very good reasons. The first of which was her unwillingness to reprise the terrible mouse-fight we’d had after I gave her an email tutorial back in 1997.

The second had to do with her long experience as a consumer. Years ago, she had entered a competition at a department store. She never did win that bedroom ensemble. She was, however, harassed for years with offers of discounted hard goods by mail and by phone. “You give them your information and they never let up,” she said. That we presumed Facebook did not have the aggressive business reflex of a furniture salesman is probably a little naive. Of course, we knew it all along. My mother knew it, I knew it and any of the bright online commentators currently buoyed by outrage at privacy infractions knew it even better than us.

I suspect that this anger is a case of what a shrink might call ”projection”. The Facebook backlash is an elaborate refusal to acknowledge our own terrible behaviour.

In 500 billion minutes each month, we kill time and traditional social networks on Facebook. Here our high-speed online reading of social situations has become more cursory and our responses more rushed. All the while, our faculty for snark increases.

Online at incredible speed, we become less mindful, we become more aggressive and, as my own embarrassing excursions on the social media site Twitter have evinced, we are steeped in regret almost as soon as we hit return.

Without the cues and consequence provided by real life contact, our empathy drains from us like acid from a bad car battery.

With fewer inhibitions and greater scope for expression, we have become quite unpleasant. It is not uncommon to read terrible, terrible things about oneself and others online. We have lost our civility. The loss of our privacy is the last of our concerns.
There are a good many things in the world that I do not understand. These include,
but are by no means limited to, quantum mechanics, the hobby of scrapbooking and a decline in the use of passionfruit frosting. Passionfruit frosting is delicious. There is no clear reason why it is not slathered on a greater number of pastries. I do not understand bakers or the world in which they bake.

Another of the many things that I have never understood is gardening.

For most of my life, I have been surrounded by ardent gardeners. Even my mother, a woman with a disinterest in nature otherwise so vast she once refused to get out of the car in Kakadu National Park because it looked, “a bit depressing”, likes to plant things. In fact, she made a living for many years as the owner of a small nursery famous for its bromeliads. People came from far and wide to hear her advice on feeding ornamentals. I think she recommended egg-shells. But, I can’t be sure because I do not understand gardening.

For several years, I have watched Andy from across the road potter about in his garden. It is not as if Andy, a very busy handy-man and Union official, has little else to do. I think part of the lure inheres for Andy in wizzing on his lemon tree. In fact, I suspect that most gardening males garden due to the license it affords them to wizz on their lemon trees. But, I can’t be sure because I do not (a) have a cock or (b) understand gardening.

Then, of course, there’s my girlfriend. Across thirteen years and four residences, she has lugged a small hot-house worth of orchids and lilies. She mumbles about her Phalaenopsis, her mealy bugs and sphagnum moss. She fusses about with sterile scissors like a tobacco heiress who has nothing else to do. When, in fact, she could be cooking my fucking dinner, making fun of Next Top Model with me or, perhaps, as I often remind her, turning her attention to the jungle of weeds in the front yard that wouldn’t actually trouble me if it weren’t for the fact that they attract pests. Chiefly, Klaus from next door.

Klaus threatens to call the Council about the weeds. This is about as threatening as a lullaby. My Council does nothing but argue, order expensive snacks and attract negative press. They’re too busy porking each other to give a shit about my weeds. But, Klaus does give a shit about my weeds. So, if my girlfriend is going to be arsed gardening, she should do something to shut this other gardener the eff up. Perhaps a nice neat edging would do it.

But, I can’t be sure because I do not understand gardening.

Or, rather, I didn’t.

It started harmlessly enough. I shan’t irk you with any more details than necessary but, let it be said, couch-grass is a lethal demon that can rip anything apart. Including asbestos, families and democracy. Poisoning it requires a level of dedication and research inclined to ignite an obsessive mind like mine and, to cut a very dull story short, I now own a rake, a shovel, three pairs of gardening gloves and a season’s pass to the osteopath who is the only person that can untwist a body driven by five hours of neurotic gardening every fucking day.

Oh. I also have one of those weeding pads, a watering can and a hat with a trim that actually matches my gardening gloves.

Gardening is a disease more destructive to the fabric of a life than anthracnose fungus. Or couch-grass. It gets in the way of habitual alcohol misuse, Next Top Model and the decade long argument I have been enjoying with Klaus the neighbour. Like any addiction, it drains its victim of money and ambition and can only end in overdose. Or, the construction of a water feature. If you hear me talk about plumbing fixtures, please, call an intervention.

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