Before personal computers, the Internet, and cellphones, we had our own version of Facebook in grammar school. Called “Slam Books”, it was one of those adolescent fads before electronics. Each student had their own spiral notebook that they passed around, with the invitation “please sign my Slam Book”. The owner of the Slam Book wrote her (predominantly “her”) name on the first page, and then penciled in a question on the header of each subsequent page. “What is your favorite color?” “Your favorite food?” Innocuous questions at first, but deeper into the book, the questions became more defining. “Favorite band?” “Favorite radio station?” “Favorite movie?” “Cutest boy in the class?” The books were passed around and each person that “subscribed” wrote their name on the first page next to a number. All the answer lines on each question page were numbered, to identify the respondent with the response.
We only had two rock and roll radio stations in our area, so picking one over the other placed no taboo on the respondent. But once you progressed to a choice of rock band, or singling out the class heart throb, you were pigeonholed. The crucial question came in around page 10: “Who is the most popular girl in school?”
I succumbed to the trend and probably scribbled in a lot of pat answers in bad faith, for fear of being ostracized. But I eventually made friends with a girl who chose an “adult” news radio over the stations playing the “Top Ten”. I admired her courage. She also admitted to liking Andy Williams. This, in the early days of the Beatles.
Back home, I kept my own private notebook, and had started writing a treatise I entitled “The Anatomy of the Popular Person.” My mother pitched my notebook out one day in her whirlwind housecleaning, which is a great loss. I would love to read that now. I remember being enraged that certain kids in the class were dictating how we should dress, how we should think. If you didn’t conform, you were an outcast. As children in school, we are overwhelmed with a need to belong. I would never have revealed to my classmates that I was writing romance novels when I was ten, or that I would put my mom’s classical music on the stereo and practice ballet in the living room. It was bad enough to be very tall with a huge overbite and glasses. I eventually had my teeth straightened and wore contact lenses, but the damage was done at a very early age. I was not one of the Popular Girls. I finally embraced that stigma when two of my grown children, with advanced degrees in mathematics, gave me the proud title of “Outlier”. I was and am an Outlier.
During his October 20th broadcast, Bill Maher qualified Facebook as “the place where thinking went to die”, bringing back memories of those adolescent Slam Books. I left Facebook after the Trump-Clinton presidential election because I got slammed by “friends” for my political postings. I admit that I still log on occasionally, because I have true friends here and abroad who post personal news and photos. Just as in grammar school, I want to feel connected, and yet some types of connections alienate more than reunite.
Social media, ostensibly designed to bring people together, has become a place where “follow me” is taken to a new level. We are comforted by finding people of like minds, but those thoughts and ideas must first be formed outside of the social media, outside of the Slam Books. The unfortunate truth is that people spend more time on social media than reading a newspaper or a book. Now someone can come onto Facebook and post political information that plays into that need we all have for belonging. Our likes and dislikes are now statistically evaluated, our numbers are crunched and our trends are analyzed. The Popular Kids in School now have big money behind them when they read our responses.
Maybe, someday we can overcome our fears of exclusion, of foreign peoples and religions, and finally arrive at a single reverence for our common humanity. On the understanding that each human being is his or her own expression of what it is to be human.
Don’t Slam what I Am.