We should all delete #Facebook. Here’s why we won’t.

A made acquaintance with author Ramsey Hootman through Twitter several years ago. She followed my weight loss journey, which I chronicled in painful (and perhaps boring) detail for the local newspaper for several years.

Ramsey told me she modeled one of the villains in a book after me. It’s nice to be inspire art, regardless of how the final piece turns out.

One day, I made a negative (probably several) comments about how terrible I think social media is.

Ramsey took this personally. She sent several pointed tweets about how she met her husband through social media and her kids wouldn’t exist without social media.

I did what reasonable people who believe in polite discourse do when confronted with an opinion different than their own: I blocked her.

That was mean.

I should have just gone with mute.

I’m kidding.

What I really should have done is never typed the tweets in the first place. Everyone has an opinion about social media — good, bad, or indifferent.

Many people use social media to express those feelings, which feels ironic, possibly stupid.

If you hate social media so much, why are you spending so much time on it?

I thought about this predicament as the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times dissected the Facebook Files, a series of internal documents that show just how rotten Mark Zuckerberg’s empire is.

A lot of the reporting tells us things we could have guessed: Instagram, a product of Facebook (who recently changed the name of its parent company to Meta), creates damaging anxiety in young girls.

Facebook’s own data crunchers produced a report on how toxic the service was. The pooh-bahs at Facebook shrugged. So? People keep clicking, don’t they?

Facebook programmers have created an algorithm that takes advantage of every human weakness.

Facebook discovered people responded more often to stories that made them angry or sad.

So they pushed content at users that was more likely to make them react with extreme emotion.

Human beings are rotten at rational communication. We excel at tantrums, giggles, and sobs.

Thoughtful discussion requires calm to explore nuance and detail.

Facebook doesn’t care about nuance. Get angry. Comment. Get other people angry. Just keep clicking.

The longer your eyeballs are on Facebook, the more they can push ads, paid conspiracy theories, and pure lies at you to keep your mind inflamed, enraged, or depressed.

Here’s how insidious Facebook really is: The American newspaper, a nearly extinct medium, is so dependent on social media that even the pillars of the trade — the Times, the Journal, and the Post — use Facebook to promote and distribute their content.

That means their big scoops on the Facebook Files were posted and promoted on Facebook.

Every time someone clicked on a Facebook post by a newspaper about what a rotten, amoral monstrosity Facebook is, Facebook made money.

This is like firefighters arriving at the scene of a five-alarm fire at high-rise apartment building to find the hydrants pumped only gasoline.

If ever there were a company too big to fail, it’s Facebook.

Facebook and its sundry products, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger have 3.51 billion monthly users.

That’s almost 45% of the world’s 7.87 billion population. They would have more, but China won’t allow them.

It’s a dark day in America when you kind of envy the Chinese media landscape.

If any of us had any guts or principles, myself included, we’d quit Facebook forever. Delete the apps. Never get involved in whatever the hell the Metaverse is, which promises to be even more immersive.

But we won’t.

I won’t either.

I won’t because I like an audience.

I’m just as weak and vulnerable to the algorithms as anybody else. I obsessively check to see if people have liked my post or clicked through to read the columns, listen to my podcasts, or other media dalliances.

Sometimes they’re moved enough to send a donation (always welcome, by the way) and that feels pretty good, too.

Somehow, I believe that if a few people read my paragraph stacks, I’m still a city columnist and not a castaway from the news trade that I loved (and hated) so much for so many years.

That’s my weakness. I’m sure the algorithm knows that and other sad truths about this middle-aged fat man.

I may delete Facebook and Twitter when it comes time to look for my teaching job. I don’t think I’ve said anything terrible.

But those emotive communicators play for blood. They don’t just want an apology; they want a person’s livelihood and maybe a public execution, at least that’s how it feels.

To be fair, Ramsey Hootman was right. Some positive things come out of Facebook. My friend Mary raised a lot of money so I could afford knee surgery this summer and people continue to support me while I wait for word on training extension benefits.

I’ve got some time before I have to decide about Facebook and social media. I built up quite a following on social media. It seems like a waste to throw that audience away.

Then again, that’s the rub, isn’t it? They keep playing off my confirmation bias that it’s important to have an audience, that my writing isn’t valuable unless published, and on it goes.

The algorithm is all powerful. I am helpless to resist it.

Just like every other addiction.

Still, I’m glad social media’s algorithm helped Ramsey Hootman find love and have kids.

For what it’s worth, Ramsey, if you’re out there, I’m sorry I blocked you.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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How I learned the real meaning of generosity

My friend Tyler is faithful Lutheran. He became my friend out of a Christian act of kindness in March 1991 and we have remained so despite the different paths our lives have taken. He is married to his sweetheart, Sarah. They have two daughters.

Tyler and I differ on a great many things, but we both believe in moderation, grace, and kindness. His grace toward me has been an especially great gift during my recent struggles with health, school, money, and so on.

Tyler happened to text me on a particularly stressful day a few weeks back. My unemployment had run out and there was a problem with my student loans at the university — one that could have prevented me from registering for student teaching and potentially derailed the long plan to finish my transition from journalist to teacher.

Tyler agreed that was stressful.

He offered to come by for a chat.

I asked if he was in Des Moines. He works here, but he lives in Ames.

No, he said. He was at home. But it’s not that far of a drive.

The time was late evening after dark. He was willing to drive 45 minutes to comfort his friend and, after a time, drive back. That’s 90 minutes on the road for an act of kindness.

As most longtime readers know, I suffer the affliction of depression and anxiety. Sometimes I see only shadows on sunny days. I feel trapped with no way out.

Then I am reminded of people like Tyler, whom God sends to me in the darkest moments and says, “You’ll be OK. You will survive.”

Tyler is a blessing of 31 years.

But he is not the only one.

There are always Parents 2.0, whose love is the kind of strong that you can lean your back against it and know it won’t fall no matter how hard the winds of change blow.

There is my friend Sara, who helped me reorganize all three of my closets to accommodate my bad knees. In the front closet alone, I can do something quite spectacular because of her work: Hang up my coat. She made two visits to my home and made my closets so organized that I am afraid to take something out for fear I will mess it up.

There’s my friend Don, a retired vice president from Drake University. Sometimes I call him just to hear the undiluted enthusiasm for living in his voice. We chatted for about 45 minutes one recent day. By the end of the talk, I felt like Lazarus. Don’s belief in people, their resilience, and their potential to do good is unwavering.

He helps me believe in me, and that is no small feat.

There is my friend Mimi, with whom I have dinner once a week. I often call her when I’m despondent. She offers that motherly shoulder for my burdens. I always feel lighter after a chat with Mimi. Most of the time, we talk about the state of the world, her three sons, or her late husband Steve, a mentor and friend to me and a loving husband to her.

Then there are the 199 people who made 248 donations, first to help pay for my knee surgery in August, and again to help me cover expenses now that unemployment has run out.

(You can still donate if you’re so inclined. Visit this link or any of the links below this column.)

I know some of the names: family, friends, readers, classmates, acquaintances, and so on.

But most of the names are strangers. Many are anonymous.

When I think about these acts of generosity, I tear up.

What have I done to deserve this kindness?

Lord knows, I’ve lived a flawed and sometimes foolhardy life. I don’t deserve this kindness.

But that kind of thinking disrespects the faith those people have placed in me.

They’re pushing me to keep moving forward, to finish school, and become the teacher I promised I would be.

What did I do to deserve their faith?

Nothing.

Yet.

My job now is to live up to the promise that they see. I have work to do. I don’t wish to become a good teacher. I want to be a great one.

I want to take every experience I’ve endured since I lost my job at the local newspaper — unemployment, struggles with government benefits, financial instability, physical health challenges, poor insurance, and many more — and turn them into empathy for what students and their families face.

I will find a way to help students learn, be the light that Don is in my life, to go the extra mile the way Tyler does, be the ear they need like Mimi, or the helper that Sara is.

The message of this charity is not about what I deserve.

These are the examples of the kind of person I want to be in my new career and in the next part of my life.

That makes it a little easier to swing my swollen legs over the side of the bed, rub them down with lidocaine, pull on compression socks and strap on two knee braces before I take a first step in the morning.

Because I need to keep moving forward, not just for me, but for all those who’ve put their faith in me.

I promise all of you: I am humbled. I am honored.

And, most of all, I am motivated.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

I’m not a dad, but I make dad noises

Morning begins with curse words. I slide myself to the edge of the bed. I draw circles around both knees with prescription lidocaine gel. I rub it into both knees until the skin is warm.

Next, the girding begins.

I pull on compression socks up to the knees.

I strap on a brace on the left knee, still recovering from surgery to remove two bits of torn meniscus last month.

I pull on a compression sleeve on the right knee, which just has the usual amount of arthritic pain.

Then I stand.

I am not a dad, but I make dad noises.

I’m uncertain at first, timid.

Sometimes the tendons in the left knee are so tight I can’t get full extension.

Sometimes I wobble and sit back down.

Eventually, I find enough support to walk to the bathroom.

I take small, mincing steps. There are no bold strides in these legs now.

I worry there never will be again.

I am in physical therapy.

I do exercises to loosen and strengthen the atrophied legs.

The cartilage tear in the left knee came in late June, but it only exacerbated the degenerative arthritis condition in both knees.

I can’t remember the last time I took a step with confidence.

I am obese.

That gives others cart blanche to judge me, to tell me what’s wrong, to offer their unsolicited solutions, or simply to scold.

I could explain that obesity is one of many symptoms of trauma. I work on it actively with my doctor and behavioral therapist.

But why bother?

Being fat is a sin in country where millions of people are fat. I have arthritis. I must deserve it.

It’s like going to the funeral of someone who died of cancer and asking, “Did she smoke?” If so, is the grief any less?

I wrote about my downtrodden mood a while back. A reader wrote in to say she didn’t contribute to my surgery fund to hear me say “I can’t.” Or it was something to that affect. I deleted the comment.

I never promised anyone who donated to my surgery that I wouldn’t struggle, that I wouldn’t have bad days, and that I wouldn’t write about them.

I only promised I would get their surgery and do my very best to become a good teacher in whatever community hires me. If the expression of pain and sadness is a disappointment, I apologize for nothing.

These paragraphs are always raw emotion.

If the message was meant to be a “ha, ha” poke, a lame attempt at inspiration, or some other uplifting note encased in sardonic wool, it hit me exactly the wrong way at precisely the wrong time.

The fact is I hurt.

I hurt a lot.

And it’s not just the knees.

I’m humbled by using a walker. I shouldn’t be. There’s no shame in using tools you need to get where you need to go. Where I need to go is class so I can finish my degree and become a teacher.

I struggle with my obesity.

I hate it. I hate that I didn’t recognize the connection between my psychology and my eating habits years earlier when it would have been easier to build new schema to negotiate the world.

The thing that frustrates me most often about obesity is the idea that people think it’s tough love when they tell me how fat I am.

Do they think I did not notice? Or perhaps they thought I was proud of my body that barely works and hurts all the time.

I don’t know.

All I ask of people is that they respect each other’s dignity. If I want to talk about my health, I will. I’ll reach out. I’ll confide. It’s my call.

I’ve got a doctor. I’ve got a therapist. If I am not progressing at a rate that satisfies others, well, how do you think I feel?

There are not magic solutions.

I get it. Some people try a diet and, boom, they lose a bunch of weight and they feel great. They want to pass it on.

A couple of things: No solution is universal. If it was, pharmaceutical and other medical companies would have bought up the rights to these programs decades ago and they’d be prescribed by doctors.

I tried a program recommended by friends. I gained weight. I dumped it and went back to what I was doing: cutting calories, eating better foods.

Secondly, these programs are often expensive. I’m living off unemployment and that ends this week. After that, who knows what I’ll do. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be signing up for an expensive commercial diet plan.

If this reads a little angry, it should. I am angry.

I’m angry with myself.

When struggling, the tendency is to look back and see every mistake we made and blame ourselves for not recognizing the dangers, not planning better, not having a back-up plan, and so on.

I know that’s fruitless. I do it anyway. I’m good at beating up myself.

I’m angry with others, too.

I share here. This is public. People can comment. Almost everyone is positive. But every now and then you get a sock to the jaw from someone you know — and even someone you don’t know — and it really stings.

I try to avoid assuming bad intentions. I learned this from my friend Ross Peterson, the radio host and relator.

I choose to believe these things are said to be inspirational or out of love. They’re just expressed imperfectly. That I understand. I’ve worked with letters most of my life and I still struggle to express myself precisely the way I want.

Here is what I want people to know:

I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now.

I’m taking some classes that aren’t easy for me.

I’m recovering from knee surgery.

My arthritis hurts bad.

When unemployment runs out, if I don’t get approved for an extension through the federal government, I must appeal to an administrative law judge. That’s a lot of stress.

But despite all the stuff I’m dealing with, I am trying to be better.

I don’t want to just be an adequate or good teacher. I want to be a great one. I want to be the teacher that students look forward to seeing each day. More than that, I want to be the teacher students learn stuff they can use from.

I’m actively working on my physical and mental health. I’m in physical therapy. I’m in behavioral therapy.

I may complain. I may groan. I may cry out. I may make dad noises.

But I promise all of you I’m doing the best I can.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.