frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Facebook Follies

The other day I was chatting with my friend Drew about the evils of Facebook, a favorite topic of ours, and made the mistake of suggesting we both blog about why we both don’t like it. This was a mistake because Drew took me up on it, which meant that I would have to keep up my end of things and write about it, too. On a deadline, no less. And of course that meant that I a) procrastinated and b) when I finally did sit down to write, I suddenly couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

God knows I shouldn’t be having writer’s block over this, of all topics. Having never joined Facebook, I've had plenty of opportunities to explain my reasoning behind why I continue to eschew the most popular social networking site in the entire world. People are always mystified at the fact that I don’t have an account. The other day a girl asked if I was on Facebook and when I said no, her resulting expression was a unique blend of pity, awe and disbelief, accompanied by a single word: "Wow." I might as well have said that I used oil lamps to light my house, and commuted to work in a horse-drawn buggy.

So I eventually came up with a bunch of reasons ready to deploy whenever someone asked why I'm not on Facebook. I've said the site was causing people to trade real-life relationships for virtual ones, or that it was making us more isolated while giving the illusion of more connection. I've said it was a big distraction and that the last thing I needed in my life was another way to waste time, because I was doing way too well in that department already. All of which I believe are true. However, as Drew and I conversed the other day, it became clear that our biggest beef with the social media juggernaut could be summed up in a single word: Privacy.

Facebook has made eroding privacy into something of an art, if by “art” you mean “terrible travesty.” I mean, let’s be candid for a moment: It’s a joke to think that a company whose CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, got his start hacking into Harvard’s computer system and illegally lifting people’s private information to use without permission on a website he’d created would care one bit about your privacy.* Except insofar as caring about it could possibly make money for them. But since it can’t — since in fact it is your lack of ability to keep things private in the Facebook universe that provides the most potential for making money off of you — well, need I say more?

Probably not, but hey, I will. (Mostly because Drew will so not let me get away with leaving it at that.)

Recently, as many people know, Facebook changed their privacy settings. Their default mode is not that all your stuff would be hidden, but that all your stuff would be out in the open for anyone on the ‘Net to see. And even if you do choose to lock down every possible setting, there is some information that will still be publicly available. Like, your profile pic. Your gender. Your fan pages. Your networks. Your geographical region.

Well, so what, you’re saying. I have nothing to hide. Why should I worry?

To which I say, seriously?

Look. We’ve all heard the saying, “Knowledge is power.” Well, in this society, knowledge is equated, for better or worse, with information — and guess who’s sitting on the mother lode of it. (Hint: Facebook.)

Everything you do on Facebook is pretty much owned by Facebook. It’s also logged, tracked, saved. It’s already being used for potentially invasive research. All your photos, all your blog posts, all your wall messages, and yes, every silly quiz you take, it all becomes data that can be used to tell any number of things about you to people you don’t even know, and probably never will.

The point is, privacy isn’t about keeping stuff hidden anymore, it’s about controlling the information that belongs to you. And when you use Facebook, you cede control to Facebook. Ultimately, you’re handing over your personal information to a corporation headed by the guy who very recently said this:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.(from the Guardian)

That explains those new “privacy” settings, I guess. But it sure doesn’t make me feel any better, knowing my information’s under the control of 25-year-old Zuckerberg, who has decided for himself what people have gotten more comfortable with over time. And I’d beg to differ with his analysis anyway, considering the backlash that has greeted Facebook’s roll-outs of products like the ill-fated Beacon — a service which broadcast a user’s activities on external websites to that user’s network on Facebook, and which, I’ll just note, was initially implemented without user consent and only discontinued after protests. Lots and lots of protests.

Odd that anyone would have had a problem with it, considering the new social norms and all. Granted, Beacon was launched in 2007, and Zuckerberg's quote is from this year — no doubt a lot has changed in three years. Maybe if Beacon was launched today, people would just shrug their shoulders and not care. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Now wait just a minute, I hear you saying. You use Google. You blog. Heck, you blog using Google! And what about cell phones, and IMing and all that stuff? How is any of that different or better than using Facebook?

Well, those are good questions, all of them! And if I weren’t so behind on when I promised Drew I would publish this post, I’m sure I’d be more than happy to go into a deeper analysis and provide informative explanations. On the other hand, that doesn’t sound like me at all, does it? Fortunately for all of us, there is a simple solution to this little quandary anyway. And here it is: Go read Drew’s blog.





* “Zuckerberg was charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy and faced expulsion, but ultimately the charges were dropped.” (Wikipedia, pulling from The Harvard Crimson)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Simple Pleasures

There's something to be said for coming home after a stressful day, running a hot bath, filling it with peppermint-scented bubbles, and reading poetry while soaking in the water.

And that something is, simply, "Thank you, God."

Monday, February 22, 2010

To The Person Who Left A Nice Big Dent On My Car Door This Morning

Dear Whoever You Are,

I just wanted to express my deep gratitude, first of all for hitting my little sedan and second for your thoughtful self-effacement which no doubt prevented you from leaving a note. Kind of like a Secret Santa! Words cannot describe what a treat it was to come back to the car after my run and find that the driver and passenger side are no longer boringly symmetrical. I only wish I'd been there to thank you, profusely, in person.

Have a lovely day! I know mine sure is off to a great start.

With appreciation from the frogg princess...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Today I went to Mass at a Catholic church for the first time in my life. Contrary to what I might have expected, growing up as I did in a very strictly Protestant sect, I did not get struck by lightning the moment I crossed the Catholic threshold. A huge relief, since that would have put a big damper on the whole occasion. Instead, I really enjoyed the experience, apart from the rather severe wooden pews that had clearly been designed with the intention of keeping everyone in them as uncomfortable as possible and therefore wide awake. We'd barely been sitting for five minutes before one of my friends leaned over and whispered, "Now I know why Catholics stand so much."

The service was led by the fifth grade of the church's school, which was, of course, adorable. The kids had even made "Lenten Activity" booklets, which some of the children handed out at the entrance. Each page is a different color and represents a week of Lent. Each week features an activity, charmingly handwritten by one of the fifth graders (I presume).

Week 1: "Pray for young people this week." I note with interest that nowhere in the book does it say to "pray for old people." Maybe that would have sounded disrespectful, but it seems sad to just leave them out. On the other hand, maybe "Pray for everybody" was considered a little too vague. Or maybe they just tossed a coin and the young people won. Next year, old people!

Week 2: "Do a special act of kindness this week." At least they didn't say "random" instead of "special." Although I am a fan of the word "random" in just about any other context.

Week 3: "Get up 15 minutes early... to pray." Being a fan to a fault of ellipses, I applaud the trenchant use of them here. Also my own use of the word "trenchant."

Hmm, good thing "Be humble" isn't one of the specified activities in the booklet. On the other hand...

Week 4: "Practice being patient." Yikes. Well, I guess there's plenty of practice to be had on L.A. freeways. Unfortunately.

Week 5: "Give food to a food pantry." I don't know why, but every time I read that, I think of the food pantry as this giant mouth, waiting to gobble up the food you're going to give it.

Week 6: "Do not waste anything this week." I hope that doesn't include time, or I'm in trouble.

But if I can be serious for a moment (and yes, I know that's a big "if"), I actually really like the season of Lent. I know that probably sounds weird, if not spiritually masochistic, but I do. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with it, so it seems somehow novel, but I think it's a fantastic idea, this setting aside of weeks to review life in the light of one's faith and prepare ourselves, body and soul, for Easter. When we participate in Lent, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to experience the wonderful mystery of that day in a deeper, richer way when it comes, because we took time in advance to contemplate its meaning, and to make space in our hearts for the Resurrection and the Life.

I don't think Lent is just about doing good works, nor is it about giving things up. It's about taking stock of who we are, and reflecting on who we want to be, and facing the hard truth that the former falls far short of the latter. It's about looking in the mirror and recognizing our failures, but instead of despairing, finding joy in the pursuit of the One who gives chance after chance; who says he can give us new hearts and new spirits; who says at last, "I make all things new."

And to that I bow my head and say, Amen.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Almost There

"There" being Tahoe, of course.

The flight up to Sacramento, when it finally happened, was uneventful, which is just how I like flights to be. Now I'm here at the cowgirl's house, waiting for her and her husband to come home so we can load up the truck and get to our friend's cabin near the slopes.

Not sure if I'll get a chance to blog while I'm away, so I wanted to take the opportunity to wish you all a wonderful weekend, and a lovely Valentine's Day! With lots and lots of kisses from the frogg princess...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Waiting

So, my flight has been delayed. I was supposed to leave around 9 p.m.; now I'm stuck here at the airport til midnight. Which means, I won't get to Sacramento until at least 1:30 a.m. Which means I won't be going to bed til something like 3 a.m., since I'm going to be staying with the cowgirl and she lives about an hour and a half away from Sac.

Which means, I owe the cowgirl one, big time.

Further bulletins as events warrant, or (more likely) boredom dictates.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Today

I'm tired. And sick. I have a cold and my head is heavy. Tomorrow night I'm supposed to get on a plane to Sacramento, ultimately heading up to Tahoe for the weekend. I hope I feel better. At the moment, I'm simply feeling sorry for myself. As I usually do when I'm sick.

In other news, Monday was the one-year anniversary of the date when I discovered I had a tumor growing in my chest. Sometimes I can't believe it's only been a year. It seems like it happened ages ago. And it's still hard to believe it happened at all.

People ask me how I'm feeling, and mostly I'd say back to normal. My energy levels are back, but I still haven't managed to get into a running routine that is anything like what I was doing B.C. (before cancer). I experience pain in my chest from time to time, which the doctor said was probably due to internal scarring. My hair is super-curly now, whereas before it was just a bit wavy.

I look at pictures of myself B.C. and there are times when I feel like I'm looking at pictures of a different person who bears just a passing resemblance to me. But I also feel like that when I look at pictures of myself now. It's hard to explain. As is so much about the cancer experience in general.

But as much as I still don't always know what to make of the whole thing, I do know this — I'm so glad and thankful that, a year later, I'm here.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Brief Meditation On A Line From Hopkins

Today I went for a walk. I saw a trail I'd never taken before, and followed it to a street I didn't know. For some reason, a single line from a poem began to run through my head: The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

The word "charged" means many different things, of course. You can be charged in the sense of being accused of something. You can be charged in the sense of being entrusted to carry out a task or duty. When you charge a battery, you cause it to store energy drawn from another power source.

I looked around.

There were a scattering of pink petals on the sidewalk, fallen from a flowering bush that stood taller than I ever will. Water drops on the petals winked back at the sun.

There was a tree with some kind of berry hanging from its branches. Large dark berries, like a cross between blueberries and olives, cast in silhouette against a golden light.

There were long swathes of grass growing out of the soil next to the sidewalk. Water drops on the grass sparkled like diamonds. I stopped, crouched down, stared, ran my fingers along the thin green blades. The diamonds melted away the moment I touched them. But everywhere I looked, there were more. If God so clothes the flowers of the fields, I thought.

The world is generous with its riches. God is generous with the world. And yes, the world is charged with His grandeur. In every sense of the word.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Laid-Back, Totally Non-Road Ragey Note To Drivers In L.A., Yo

The following is a public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood frogg.

To those who are going below 65mph on the freeway, please take a moment to look at the posted speed limit signs. You'll be able to read them just fine because no way are they going to be a blur at the rate you’re going. So you will see that they say 65mph. Consider what this may mean, not just for you, but for everyone on the road with you. Especially those who are stuck in the huge line of cars stacking up behind you in the fast lane. Which, by the way, you shouldn’t be in.

To those who are going exactly 65mph, you may be interested to know that you have a 5mph leeway. This is not written in any "official laws" per se, but we all know it. Except you. Until now.

To those who are conscientiously going 5mph above the posted speed limit, please take a moment to get out of the fast lane. You’re going too slow.

To everyone using the L.A. freeway system — the fast lane is the one on the LEFT.

I realize all this may sound a little more like a diatribe than a public service announcement, but I don't care.

Thank you for tuning in. Back to your regularly scheduled day now. With kisses, of course, from the frogg princess.