It happened just as I flopped down in my chair, ready to relax after a long day of work.  I had been looking forward to an hour or two of mindless social media scrolling.  My brain was in the process of shutting down already.

But then the phone rang.  I stared at the jangling beast angrily.  I never answered the phone anymore.  Who would be asking me for money now?

Going against my instincts, I picked it up.  “Hello?”

“Hey.”  It was a friend of mine.

“What’s up?”

“Why did you unfriend me?”

“What?”  What was she thinking asking me that question?  Didn’t she know that went against every rule of etiquette?

“I’m not an idiot.  I can see that you’re not on my friends list anymore.”

“It’s nothing personal!  It was a social score thing.”

“Oh, okay.  You’re right then, it wasn’t personal.”  Her tone was sarcastic.

“See, that’s the problem.  You’re way too sensitive about this stuff.  It’s only Facebook.  Jesus.”

“I don’t know.  You took it seriously enough to unfriend me.”

“Well, you keep posting political crap.  What’s the point of that anyway?  You know that arguing politics online is a waste of time.”

“Maybe…”  She hesitated.

“Look, I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life.  It’s your own business if you don’t care about your social score, but you’re bringing everybody else’s score down, too, because they’re friends with you.  You can’t blame people if they want to back off from that.”

“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to do that to you.”

“There are only a gazillion other topics you could post about…your cats, your favorite restaurants.  Things you’d love to buy.  Those kinds of posts would make your friends happy, and they’re approved by Facebook.”

“You know that I do try to post updates about my life.”

“And that’s the other problem.  You’re way too negative.  Negativity brings your score down, too.  The last couple of updates you made were whiny.”

“I got fired from my job.  I wasn’t feeling very happy.”

“Do I have to explain the basics to you?  Just make sure to add something positive to your post to balance it out.  You know, say something like I feel kinda sad today because I was fired, but I know a much better job is just around the corner!”

“But I don’t think there is a better job around the corner.”

“You don’t really have to believe it.  Just stick it in at the end.  Everyone will get what you’re trying to do.”

“Sure.”  She sounded defeated.  “I don’t understand why we have to be so obsessed with our social scores.”

“Well, maybe you don’t care about getting discounts on your expenses, but I do.  Not everyone can afford to pay full price for everything.  It helps me out when my score adds up.  If it goes up by 200 more points, I can get a bigger TV.”

“Okay.  Congrats.  I’m happy for you.  I guess I’ll keep my opinions to myself from now on.”

“Social media just isn’t the place for them.  You can tell people your opinions face to face.”

“But we never talk in person anymore.”

“Erm…”  I had no idea how to reply to that.  I squirmed in my chair, trying to come up with some pleasant but noncommittal answer.

But I didn’t need to.  There was only a disconnected beeping in my ear.  She had hung up on me–thank God.

Note:  This story is my attempt to imagine what an American version of the Sesame Credit program would look like.  Sesame Credit is a social media program which the Chinese government is in the process of implementing.  This article is a good basic breakdown of how it’s supposed to work.

Every morning, rain or shine, I see them on my train ride in to work–the line of worshippers. On camp chairs or concrete, covered with plastic if it’s coming down as it often does here in Portland, entire families and groups of teenagers. They’re waiting to be admitted into the giant glass cube that is their temple–the Apple store, with its cheerful priests, ready to dispense technological blessings. The people cluster on the steps in front of the store like lepers hoping for a cure….and I suppose you might as well be a leper if you don’t own a smart phone.

The store opened months ago, so it’s not exactly a novelty anymore, but the faithful continue to show up daily. And this week, the disciples of other churches of consumerism are already lining up and camping outside their doors, as the holiday miracle of Black Friday discounts gets ever closer.

They really do remind me of cult followers awaiting a Second Coming, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or those unfortunate people who listened to what Harold Camping had to say about the end of the world. But the Messiah never arrived in clouds of glory, and you will never get the happiness and fulfillment you’re looking for from that TV you’re wrestling away from the other customers at the Wal-Mart sale.

In fact, you will probably only find that fulfillment if you *stop* shopping…and eating..for a moment…and reflect. There are so many reasons to have a moment of silence this Thanksgiving, from Ferguson–to the insanity that Black Friday has become–to just your own peace of mind. So I will do my best to find that moment today. Have a wonderful holiday, everybody.

It sounds like we have not been very patriotic this holiday weekend.  I wasn’t either.  I did not participate in a stampede race for a discounted pair of socks.  I did not battle other customers to the death for a flat screen TV I don’t really need.  We spent our time being grateful for the things we already have, not wanting new things.  And we weren’t alone–economists are reporting that shopping was down this Black Friday.  Unfortunately, gratitude does nothing for the success of our country, only consumption does.

I’m sure the ravenous spending gods are displeased with us, but we’ll have a chance to make it up to Them this Christmas.  I know I will be doing penance at malls and gift stores–and I hate shopping with a passion, so it will be genuine penance.  Let’s do a better job this time, patriots.