Weight Of Words, What A Novelist Won't Give Away To Facebook

Everyone's watching
Everyone's watching
Betina González

BUENOS AIRES — Facebook irritates me, entertains, consoles, bores and infuriates me, moves and depresses me — but above all, it exhausts me.

Rewind to 2008, and I am in Pittsburgh working in a migrant help center. My Belgian friend Marie enters the office with her laptop and shows me a new platform where you can share pictures and texts. A kind of personal, daily diary, but public, she says: "You can find all your old acquaintances, even your primary school classmates," she explains with delight.

I had buried myself in a corner of the United States to escape the nerve-wracking publicity that followed my winning a literary prize. So I smile and explain that being found is precisely the last thing I was looking for. Each person has his or her phobias, and at the time, mine was my parents' phone ringing at all hours. It might be either (the late journalist) Bernardo Neustadt inviting me to breakfast or a schoolfriend whose father had worked with the military junta, wanting to congratulate me, no doubt after digging up my number in some notebook, like we were close friends.

No, I don't need Facebook, I tell Marie. Nursed by my phobias, I resisted another year.

It is 2010, and I am having lunch with a former boss on a visit to Buenos Aires. A consummate seducer, he is more than 20 years older than me but he now does online what he used to do at work or in the street (eyeing girls' backsides and competing with colleagues). Only now he does it shamelessly — "touch and go" — as online networking permits. "I don't know why your generation is resisting Facebook," he says rather patronizingly, between mouthfuls. "It's like a bar. You go in, if you meet someone you want to talk to, you chat, say hello and carry on," he says.

The author — Photo: Blogspot

I wanted to tell him that for me, entering a bar and bumping into somebody disagreeable is tantamount to a calamity. Why would I want to expose myself to that possibility every day of my life? Admittedly such occasions are rare, so I merely criticize the precarious, childish and self-indulgent language of Facebook, where all you had then was the "like." Obviously there is no sense asking for "not like" (or anything else) from a medium that reflects the American version of friendship as personal reinforcement, a pat on the back or the "contact-less' kiss on the cheek.

With this and other reasonings, I abstain 18 months longer.

Now it is 2011 and the reproaches of friends who have events and must invite me by other means are becoming frequent. The distant ones insist that it's easier sharing news this way than having to write e-mails. I also discover that not having a profile does not keep you safe: I am seen in pictures of house parties and events uploaded by friends and institutions. I can see comments and references about me, and my Wikipedia profile (with all its inaccuracies and mistakes), which Facebook imported, Lord knows when.

So I decide to create a profile if only to know what is happening, though right at the start I take the healthy decision not to include anything about my emotional life. As a last gesture of defiance, I lie about my birthday, putting my age down as over 70. I immediately start getting adverts for disposable nappies, facial yoga and travel discounts for grandparents.

The first years, I tolerated as far as possible the harassment of males trying to pick up girls, the hypocrisy of people who pretend to know me, misunderstandings, peer pressure and the general cheekiness of people who want me to watch, comment, like, read and applaud things that left me entirely indifferent. The opposite is also true though: there are and have been events and protests that online networking manages to expand, if not not actually launch. For me the most positive effect is dialogue with readers who write to say how they felt after reading my books, or contacts with colleagues who recommend essays, films and exhibitions. There is also the communication from people who have had children, won scholarships or started businesses.

The words were burning in my head.

In 2015, I start to get sick of the whole thing. This came with the strained electoral atmosphere and complemented my boredom with the programmed narcissism the site imposes on you. I suspend my account for a few months. After a holiday, I restored it but decide not to install it in my smartphone.

Still, restricted usage still does not protect me enough. It is 2018: the police have just shot an 11-year-old boy in the back in Tucumán. People are shocked: Someone shares on the site a letter by the boy's grandmother. I read it and have to get up from the computer, leave the house and take a breath. I go for a walk with the words burning in my head. When I return, the letter has been shared so many times it has become meaningless. It's just there, alongside pictures of chocolate cakes, the latest concert, a selfie with some celebrity, the beach in Miami, and so on... An audiovisual porridge with the woman's grief mixed in. I close the computer and try to hang onto the grief and indignation.

Some may know more about it and trust in the power of users to subvert the platform's premises, but not me. Facebook is a frivolous medium and deserves nothing but my frivolity (not that frivolity is inherently reproachable. Far from it, but you must know the game you are playing). So I shall not even devote time here to the trolls, privacy violations or fake news, because these are big problems affecting the entire Internet. I am concerned with words, the ones we toss around. Instead of deleting my profile now, I take care: I sign the card but will not stay for the photo. I'll go on the march, but post nothing about it. I am incensed a thousand times over about violations of our rights but keep from stating my indignation on Facebook. Because my feminism or my defense of free, public education are not ornaments to some personal profile, but parts of who I am in this world and how I write, teach and resist. Say Basta!, in other words, but say it in the right place and time.

At the end of the day, words are all we have. They are potent, even fierce, but also fragile. And the words that matter and move me most inside, are never found online.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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