We contacted the busy doctor at his beach house on the Jersey shore. When we got him on the phone, he was out of breath from his daily run along the beach. Dr. Ensernos was born in Portugal and has lived in the USA for all of his adult life. Nevertheless, the prickly doctor speaks with a heavy accent that you just have to imagine in your inner ear as you read what strikes me as being rather intemperate in its blanket condemnation of the innocuous and admittedly time-wasting activity that obviously brings joy to millions of people.
“On Facebook, running on the beach is the sort of trivial and totally insignificant occurrence that people post on their pages. And they’d probably go into the most excruciating and boring detail about being chased by a dog—though that’s at least somewhat dramatic, as opposed to the usual drivel people inflict on their so-called friends. Usually you get things like going off to the dentist, or grandma having a colonoscopy, or all those cute pictures of the family dog snoozing on the sofa or finishing off the leftover lasagna.”
I was scribbling as fast as I could, and once I got the gist of his remarks, I asked him how much experience he had actually had with Facebook. Had he, I asked, actually joined up, or was his opinion based just on hearsay?
“Yes, yes, yes. I did join. I am a scientist and feel it is incumbent upon me to gather empirical evidence. As soon as I joined, suddenly out of nowhere came all these morons wanting to be my friend! People I’ve never heard of! Or people who claimed they’d met me in the cafeteria at some conference in Kansas City. Or people whom I had consigned to the good-riddance trash receptacle and had no interest in striking up a renewed acquaintance with.”
“But Dr. Ensernos,” I interrupted, “isn’t it nice to reconnect with old friends?”
It was obvious that the eminent semiotician was becoming impatient with me. There was a long and awkward silence, after which Dr. Ensernos cleared his throat, like a motorboat starting up, and addressed my question.
“If they were really my friends, I would still be connected! Right? Right? With real friends, you get on the phone, or meet for a drink, or go to a movie. Real friends wouldn’t dream of inflicting upon you the most tedious banalities about their philosophy of life, like the kind of stuff I had to look at for the day or two I was on Facebook, stuff like realizing we are all one eternal and unchanging Self, blah blah blah. Whatever connection you have on Facebook is completely spurious. It’s what my old friend, the late Christopher Lash called a ritualized relatedness, empty of real substance.”
“And by the way, that’s why the Facebook”—Dr. Ensernos occasionally lapses into unidiomatic English—“that’s why the Facebook is such a perfect vehicle for pathological narcissism, which is not really love of self, but the fear that you have no self, and so are driven continually to seek an admiring audience. You want people to love you not for your accomplishment, but only for your lovable self. Look at me! Everything is image and impression management, which is a pretty good definition of Facebook.”
Professor Ensernos was on a roll.
“That’s why photos are so big on Facebook. All image! No authentic self! Finally, all the concern for losing privacy on Facebook is an ironical irony. No such thing as privacy exists for Facebookers any more because they have no real selves to be private about. And here’s the really crazy thing about Facebook, as far as I’m concerned. Because it’s basically narcissistic, no one is paying any attention to anyone else. There’re no genuine connections or relationships, only reflections in the narcissistic mirror.”
I still wanted Dr. Ensernos to be my new Facebook friend, but when I asked him if he would, he hung up on me.