When I first heard that noted journalist and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens had died, I did all that I could to put the loss in perspective. Very few intellectuals in the public sphere achieve the sort of fame that he did in his career. He could be described in a myriad of ways by a wide cross-section of cultural observers. To some, he was an acclaimed biographer. To others, he was one of the few intellectuals to come out in favor of the Iraq occupation. Then, there were folks that just knew him as “the guy who wrote that women aren’t funny in Vanity Fair.”
He was a well-mixed cocktail of all of these traits to me, but the first thought that popped into my brain when I heard the news of his passing was, “Christopher Hitchens didn’t have Facebook.”
This sounds a bit indelicate and a borderline churlish observation. Though, when it is commonplace for news of a celebrity death to arrive in the form of a “Status Update,” I think it becomes perfectly valid. It’s trite to say that Facebook has assumed an unnaturally important place in the everyday life of the average young adult, and yet it is true for me. It’s so prominent in my daily routine that when I found that a person I’ve never met had accepted a “Friend Request” I don’t remember sending, it cast a dark pall over my entire day.
I’m fairly certain I didn’t press the “Friend Request” button. I wasn’t even close to it when browsing the page for this man who had posted on my friend’s “Wall.” His “Profile Picture” had intrigued me and I needed a closer look at it, but requesting his “Friendship” was never an option. If the “Friend Request” button was in Los Angeles, my index finger was in Decatur. Worlds apart. Never the twain shall meet. Despite this certainty, I now possess one Facebook friend that I have never met, that can do nothing for my career and isn’t even a cute girl.
I don’t know this person now. I don’t even necessarily care to know this person in the future. Regardless, there is a nagging sense that fate has interjected itself into my life and I had better prepare for what is yet to come. A small sliver of my being cannot help but ponder the notion that this is the equivalent of the scene in Crash when the locksmith gets shot, but no bullet comes out. Either that or I am in some bawdy French farce where magical realism shoves characters together in the clumsiest way possible. Whatever it is, it reeks of divine provenance.
The story of my accidental Facebook friend doesn’t have to end with the “Confirm Request” button. The door has opened to a few potential outcomes. There is always the lingering possibility that we could grow to be actual friends, with a meaningful connection and mutual respect for each other. Better yet, his sister or other female acquaintance could fall in love with me and we could become man and wife. My whole life could depend on how I respond to this burgeoning relationship. It might be the stroke of luck I have been waiting for.
He could also be a big fan of America’s Got Talent or make his living through illegal dogfights, which is not nearly as personally gratifying. I must then question my own overwhelming interest in this situation. Am I being purely narcissistic? Am I assigning significance to a completely random, freak occurrence in order to reinforce the megalomaniacal narrative I built to keep my fragile ego from crumbling like a coffee cake made of brown sugar and despair? Why am I asking so many questions?
This is the true tragedy of losing Christopher Hitchens. Every day, we run out of men and women like him, willing to embrace intellectual rigor mixed with strength of conviction. More often than not, a person either has one or the other. They are a curious mind that is overwhelmed by attempting to know the unknowable, or they’re preaching Bible verses to you about not eating meat on Fridays. I’m not saying Hitch was always right or even right the majority of the time, but at least he stood up for his beliefs and had an uncanny knack for backing up those beliefs in a consistently eloquent manner. This is a far cry from the rank-and-file politician who is willfully ignorant of foreign affairs or is on record, on video saying things that contradict everything he claims to believe.
Christopher Hitchens didn’t have a Facebook because Facebook is for people like me, and probably like you. It’s for the type of person who will sit around their apartment worrying about a “Friend Request” or a “Like.” As I always do with my work, I will post a link to this essay on my “Wall” and wait for the adulation and fawning to begin. “Great job, Dave” or “This was so funny!” they will say. There is a very real chance those comments will not arrive, like I so badly need them to. That will lead to me losing faith in my ability and cause me to doubt my whole existence. Facebook is not for Baby Boomers because they don’t derive their meaning from ones and zeros. They get it from sexual conquests, money and power, which is why the world is such peril. I call this the “Bill Clinton Factor,” since he was the quintessential Boomer president.
In spite of this sobering realization, I still yearn for the sort of person who is unwavering, ambitious and educated. If Clinton ran for president today, I’d still vote for him, because he stood up to those who disagreed with him purely by being smarter than they were. Every time your tweet doesn’t get a “Favorite” or your YouTube cat video tops out at 300 views, you further suffocate any hope for legitimate self-confidence in future generations. My accidental Facebook “Friend” is likely as consumed with this situation as I am, and I hope he finds a way to cope with the uncertainty.
I also hope he takes the time to “Like” this essay.