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Offbeat 18 September 2015

“If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, perhaps you should step into a travel agent and book a flight. Who has time to walk that far, anyway?” I know that you need courage to take the first step before something can begin, but I have heard the thousand mile expression far too often now. It has more value as a line for shoe advertising. You can quote me on that.

I have been waging a small, intermittent resistance to the spread of quotes on Facebook for a while now. Mostly it is due to boredom, and the nausea induced by seeing the same words, again and again, but there is a more serious side to it.
A lot of the quotes are wrongly attributed junk. The the example of the popular quote ‘find what you love and let it kill you’. It is widely attributed to the poet Charles Bukowski. Actually it comes from singer Kinky Friedman, and he didn’t say ‘love’, he said ‘like’.
The words are taken out of context. He was talking broadly about making music, and how he reconnected to music as a way to get past substance abuse. Had it come from Charles Bukowski, it would probably have been from a longer poem about despair in the midst of passion, and would probably have referenced cigarettes, whisky, a grimy sidewalk, possibly with pigeons on it, and the sight of a departing lover.
The quote, as presented on Facebook, has nothing to do with the reality of Kinky Friedman, nor with the imaginary notion of a grim Charles Bukowski poem.
There might be an argument in accepting the idea that the quote has a meaning of its own, an idea of allowing passion to overwhelm the senses. On the other hand, I weigh that up against the value of the quote among the hundreds of other quotes I have seen. Unfortunately, it becomes just another quote among hundreds.
The economics of the thing is akin to a commodities glut. The more there is on the market, the less valuable each unit becomes. It’s sort of like the oil price plunging, just another barrel and just another quote.
There is a different way of looking at it. Years ago, quotes were important cultural phenomena. As I remember it, people used to absorb words of wisdom, and sort through them to find value. Aging and maturity usually produced individual maxims, the so-called ‘words to live by’. Individuals valued their maxims and transferred them to their children.
The sparse landscape allowed certain words of wisdom to stand out and shape the world. An expression like ‘a journey of a thousand miles’ would not induce boredom, but might lead to prolonged thought about determination and the courage to overcome initial reservation. That thought would influence individuals, families, communities, organisations and even nations.
Today that feels like it has changed. On any given day, people scan their social media and repost quotes, quite often multiple times. It feels like people are consuming ideas without stopping to examine them for too long.
In a world where thought and insight go lost there probably isn’t much room for arriving at own thoughts either. Thinking should lead to more thinking, and that in itself is a very important point. As the number of prepackaged quotes grows, the question arises in my mind, who will generate new insights and ideas to toy with.
Facebook allows me to dismiss certain types of content, so I have started dismissing content of certain types and from certain pages that spread memes.
I answer their questions about what sort of content goes on my wall, with a bias towards posts that people have written. Activity is diminishing. It’s a curse disguised as a blessing. Less people are posting their own content, so my timeline becomes quieter. Yet whenever I see people writing out their own thoughts the more I value them.
It’s a personal take on things, so please don’t quote me on any of this.
Do yourself a favour though. The next time you see a Charles Bukowski quote, look up some of his poetry. There’s a lot of thought out there, that needs to be appreciated.

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