I want to introduce you to the Cult of the Dependent.
Yes, that might be a fine book title, should any of the world's finest literary agents be reading this. However, I hadn't--until last week--had a personal encounter with one of the cult's members.
The cult offers its members a very particular dependence, couched in a sense of enormous freedom. It is an enormous freedom from news, something that Facebook's charmingly skin-crawling changes announced this week will assist in fostering.
This particular cult member is one of the finest people I know--my friend, George. (Name changed for his personal safety.)
George is very excited about the idea that, for example, the whole of the world's media will now be filtered through Facebook's supremely sticky Open Graph feature, like salty spaghetti water through a sieve.
Why might George be excited, some may wonder? Well, George doesn't bother to read the news. Ever.
At this point you might decide that George must be a thorough halfwit--or perhaps a prison inmate deprived of basic rights after an excessive act of physical insistence.
Actually, he is an engineer, educated at one of America's finest universities. Yes, the one where baked goods are priced according to ethnicity.
Here's how George organizes his non-news reading world: he depends entirely on his Facebook friends reading the news for him.
"I trust them and why should I have to do what they do? I depend on them. Why should I search out that story? It takes too much time," he told me, once I'd placed a Lava Vine Syrah in front of him.
"If everybody is posting something on Facebook or tweeting about it, that means it's something important," he continued, warming to the expression of his inner feelings.
So he never decides for himself that something is important? He never posts something that has moved him to share? Not news, no.
"If my friends post that something significant has happened, I can just watch it on YouTube and find out what the fuss is about. That way, I don't have to watch the 30 minutes of fluff and just get to the five minutes of content."
News, you see, requires socially networked fuss in order to be deemed news. Quiet news has no value, no significance. So Facebook, which now seems so intent on telling everyone what you're reading--whether you actively want to to share it or not--will allow George the absolute filter of all those whom he, allegedly, most respects.
"My social network--they are caring to share something they have read. That to me is a recommendation. What they think about it is not important, but they're pointing to a story...So I'll read it," George was moved to insist, because he could see my mouth had been open for far too long and he could see far too much hanger steak resting inside it.
George is very comfortable outsourcing his news work to his Facebook friends. "Most of news is trash," he told me. "This is saving me so much time." Facebook's changes allow him an even wider swathe of his friends' news work from which to choose something to which it might be worth offering three seconds of his time.
George does, though, have one exception: elections. "They do matter. So I'll look for stuff myself."
Mired in thought as we got to our pineapple upside-down cake, I decided I would try to become one of George's trusted news pushers.
When I got home, I e-mailed him a link (not being a Facebook enthusiast) to something that I thought was fascinating, amusing, thoughtful. The link, as it happens, didn't have a headline within it.
George quickly replied: "You see, the difference here is that you are actively trying to get me to waste time. There's no headline, no picture, and I will forget to click on it because I am currently not in the frame of mind to consume news."
He still tried to get me to understand the finer points of the Dependent life: "When I'm idle and checking my social-media feeds, I will see a headline and picture and some witty comment by my trusted inner circle of friends, which will pique my interest. Then I will click to read more."
When it comes to information, George isn't interested in what he calls "frictional experiences" (these would come from what some would call the "normal" world). He is only interested in "real-time serendipity."
Facebook--because it feels you, George, it feels you-- has decided to be your Mistress of Serendipity.
"Mmm," said George, purring like a very fluffy cat. "That feels so good, so real-time, so serendipitous. How did she know what I like?"