Learn English | A new lesson every week
Book your course now

Danny's Reading: Facebook

Average: 5 (15 votes)

This week finds me a little disgruntled.

'Disgruntled' is a word that I like. It means irritated, or grumpy, or sullen. What I like about it is the way it sounds...you can tell people that you're feeling disgruntled and they immediately know that you're not particularly happy even if they don't know the meaning of the word. It's a good word and I like it. Using it, however, does not make me feel any less disgruntled. Or irritated. Or grumpy.

Why I feel this way is going to be a little more difficult to explain, but I'll do my best. It has, partly, something to do with the following quote...

"Always stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone."

I don't know who first came up with the above, nor do I have the patience or inclination to google it to find out. I came across it where I seem to come across most things nowadays; in other words – on Facebook. It was written in beautiful cursive script, and set upon a backdrop of some guy silhouetted against a gold and orange rising sun. Or perhaps it was a setting sun. Or the headlights of an oncoming bus. Again, it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter, at least to me, is that there were roughly twenty-seven comments under the image – variations of 'So true!' and 'OMG! This is beautiful!' - all agreeing heartily with the sentiment. And I have two tiny problems with that...

The first of these tiny problems is that the quote itself, while perhaps not entirely meaningless, is hardly written in stone. It's all very well to stand up for what you believe in, but there are seven billion people on this planet and if you find yourself standing alone, you might want to entertain the idea that you could, just maybe, be wrong after all. I politely pointed this out in the comments section, and was immediately told to shut up and go away by almost all of the twenty-seven previous posters, with varying degrees of hostility and sarcasm. Which, to be honest, I found rather confusing, because I was, after all, standing up for what I believed in. And, apparently, standing alone.

The second tiny problem is this… how can you say anything with conviction if you're using other people’s words to say it? If you believe in something strongly enough to want to share it with the world, then shouldn’t you put a little more thought and passion into it than simply clicking 'like' and 'share'?

But these, as I mentioned, are tiny problems. In fact, they're probably not problems at all, but simply my cynical nature getting the better of me. We're talking about Facebook, after all, where everyone gets to be a philosopher and a freedom fighter without ever leaving the comfort of their swivel chair. Others simply want to let the world know that they're having a delicious plate of roast chicken and caramelised onions for dinner, with a side helping of I really couldn't care less, and that's fine too. And should one wish to use the kind of spelling and grammar that would confuse the 'detect language' function in Google Translate, I'm also okay with that. It's a social network - the online equivalent of a talk show about absolutely everything, with one billion people simultaneously presenting and sitting on the panel - and it shouldn't be taken too seriously.

The issue that I have - the major issue and the root of my current grumpiness -– is that all of the above is now leaking out of Facebook, and other social networks, and into the real world. In today's world we have the freedom, the opportunity and the means to express our opinions like no generation before us; to make our voices heard, to say whatever we wish to say and know that someone somewhere will be listening… and yet, unlike any other generation before us, it seems we have very little to say. Instead, we resort to Facebook platitudes and clichés - neat little parcels of language presented in such a way that makes them seem deeper and more meaningful than they actually are. And the result is that, since all the thinking behind this ready-made wisdom has already been done for us, our arguments lack the passion and the conviction with which our beliefs should be delivered. How can we ever hope to convince anyone of anything if, rather than expressing our feelings about whatever the topic of conversation is, we’re delivering lines that have been scripted for us?

The answer? We can't. And so we become complacent and indifferent, where all the thoughts and emotions that make us who we are become as worthless as the website we downloaded them from.

See? I told you it might be difficult to explain, but I’m doing my best. And in my own words.

'YOLO'. This expression seems to be the latest in a long line of abbreviations and acronyms doing the rounds. It stands for 'You Only Live Once'. I’ve heard people using it in speech, I’ve seen it on the Net, I’ve watched proud modern-day rebels have it tattooed on their shoulders, arms and hands.

"You know...Carpe Diem, and all that", one such newly-tattooed modern-day rebel shrugged at me, the other day.

I waited for him to hand-roll a cigarette, toss it into his mouth and light it with a casual flick of his Zippo. I knew he wasn't done yet. Worse, I knew exactly what was coming next…
He took a deep drag and blew out a lungful of philosophical smoke before fixing me with a deep gaze, and saying precisely what I knew he was going to say...
"Life's too short, bro."

Okay, so I wasn't expecting the 'bro' part, mainly because I wasn’t, in fact, his brother, but the rest of it came as no surprise. I resisted the urge to slap him.

You Only Live Once. Why has this become a sudden revelation? Was there ever a time that we used to live twice? As for the comparison to 'Carpe Diem'...well, no. Just no. 'Carpe Diem' today translates as 'seize the day', which implies that the future is uncertain and cannot be trusted, so you should make the most of now. YOLO, on the other hand, seems to translate as 'I'm about to do something completely and utterly stupid, but that’s okay because I’m justifying it by the fact that you only live once'.
Now watch me jump off this cliff.

But I didn't say any of this. And therein is the source of my current disgruntlement, because I feel that I should have. I should have said that 'YOLO' makes about as much sense as 'YODO' ('You Only Die Once'). I should have said that life may be too short, but it's not so short that you have to abbreviate 'brother' to 'bro' just in case you drop dead halfway through your sentence without ever getting your point across. I should have pointed out that when these platitudes become your entire argument rather than a way of lending support to your argument, then you lack credibility. I should have said all of this, because it is what I believe, and I always stand up for what I believe in, even if I stand alone...
But I didn’t.

Because...you know...

Life's too short.

By Danny

Danny is a teacher at our Malta English school.