About a month before I left for Morocco, I deactivated my Facebook account “temporarily.” At the time, I didn’t know that I would be able to check my email or get online from time-to-time, and the last thing I wanted was to log into Facebook and see on my wall that five people had just bought vegetables in “Farmville” or if I clicked a link, I might find out who my secret online crush is or whatever. I mean, really, I don’t care that your imaginary internet crop got flooded, and I don’t really understand why you do either. And if you have a crush on me, please tell me but not through some obscure website ad. So, not being able to police all the spam that shows up, I figured it was best to just close it down and that I would reactivate it one day.
Now that I do have access to regular internet, I’m not really sure what I want to do. On the one hand, reactivating Facebook is obviously advantageous, primarily because it allows me to keep up with Peace Corps Volunteers who are on the other side of the country. There are other ways to get a hold of them, yes, but there’s just something convenient and easy about letting Facebook be the “communication hub” of sorts, especially when it’s just what everyone uses. On top of that, because Facebook has become this monopolized hub for communicating, there are some people who I’d like to keep in touch with, and I’m not sure we could stay in touch any other way. For a while, I thought the people who really cared about me would make the effort to stay in touch and many have, but I’m slowly realizing such an expectation might not be fair; maybe the power of technology has brought us to a place where we just expect this magical thing we call the internet to be available for everyone, and we take it so for granted because we’re completely enveloped in it.
But that’s messed up, right? We can’t write letters, send emails, afford phone calls, use skype, visit the people we love etc., largely because our generation has been socialized into needing and relying on this monster of a website that somehow figured out how to hand us on a silver platter everything we wanted in communicating. Or rather, everything we thought we wanted. And when we thought we didn’t want it (like changes to Facebook), a little time smoothed things over, and suddenly, we were okay with completely losing our privacy, as well. Come to think of it, that’s the real genius of Facebook: that we were convinced to like something we didn’t actually like because of the seeming necessity of it. I mean, you have to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg whether you like him or not; he figured out how to feed our selfish nature and give us something that would suck us into believing we were “connected” to one another in some special way, when in reality, the exact opposite has taken place because of the advent of this technology. Some of us have forgotten what real connection is supposed to be for us, and we feed more on information and gossip than on reality, than on human interaction. In an instant, we can now find out who is dating who, who believes what religiously and politically, where our friends were last night or where they are right now for that matter, who does and doesn’t have “morals,” who might be cheating on who, etc. We’re overwhelmed with information that means absolutely nothing. And in the end, while we might have all the details down about the people we know (or don’t know), there is no replacement for real, human contact or for what we really discover about people when we walk and talk with them face-to-face, heart-to-heart rather than behind a magical little screen that serves more as a mirror than a window into the world.
Maybe I’m picking too much on Facebook. It’s not the only fascinating and complex social plague eating at our souls, but technology is now and has always been since the dawn of human existence something that we want, need, and shouldn’t have all wrapped up in one little device. We forever have a love/hate relationship with it, and quite frankly, all my complaints about Facebook aside, I couldn’t be more thankful for these forms of communicating, especially when I think of my grandfather in Casablanca who relied entirely on the Army Air Post Office to communicate with my grandmother (then just his girlfriend) during World War II. I mean, let’s be honest; who would’ve thought that some guy in a Peace Corps developing country would have regular internet access, but that kind of technology has become more precious than water. Literally. There are places here in Morocco where there is no access to public waterworks but because of the power of 3G, checking an email can happen with ease.
Still, even with the cyber cafe to my occasional rescue and as wonderful as this technology is, nothing replaces sitting in an empty room on blankets or small couches with my brothers Hamza and Omar as they lean into me to read whatever Arabic note card I’ve made desperately trying to accomplish the difficult task of perfecting the simplest form of communication, speech. Nothing beats the laughter that echoes off the cold, concrete walls of this empty room in the middle of a desert town in Africa when someone cracks a simple joke about the fact that the word for “soup” and the word for “poop” are incredibly similar (“I love to drink poop” just has a silly ring to it, doesn’t it?). Nothing can compare with seventeen year-old Omar insisting that I have a blanket to stay warm, because he worries I will catch cold, or when he wants to hear my American music so he can get up and dance to it over a good laugh. No technology can make up for the communal cup of water that sits in the middle of the table, for the warm, mint tea you can’t escape as Moroccans insist on sharing, or even for the way we eat food here, the four, five, or six of us dipping our bread into one plate as we each whisper, “Bismillah,” in the name of God.
It’s the simple stuff, a smile, a laugh, a touch that I might have thought was awkward back home, a quiet peace to just sitting around listening to the dozen or so children playing jump rope or soccer in the street. I don’t know whether I will reactivate Facebook or not. Maybe so in January. But I will never again in my life sacrifice these simple things that I have come to cherish about Morocco, about humanity, for a computer screen that’s telling me I’m now “connected” to the world. No, real connection is something else, is something beautiful, is something worth thanking God.