Is Facebook making us lonely?
The answer is murky at best, but this Atlantic cover story makes a valiant attempt to lay the foundation for a substantive discussion. Constantly connected, always distracted, we are all of us alone, even when we are together. Or so the argument goes.
The piece has a wonderful lead, a story rich with information and some colorful historical context of McCarthy hearings and Puritan colonists that will likely stun younger readers like me. Facebook and communism?! No way, man!
There will be several “no-duh” moments for anyone who has spent 15 seconds wondering if sleeping with a smart phone, as so many Americans now do, is a good idea. Still, for techno-addled younger generations (who with a few years’ difference have grown up far more “connected” than I ever was, indoctrinated as many are by the fashionable corporate fascism of Apple), many of these ideas will no doubt come as a revelation.
I wondered, after reading the piece, how we can discuss these issues without returning to the now-maudlin, easily discredited sentiments of Thoreau and Wendell Berry. Can we discuss our disconnection with each other without recognizing our disconnection from the natural world? Perhaps that is simply the bias of my green-tinted glasses, though I am no Luddite. Nor am I dedicated naturalist, or at least not a practicing one. Yet I cannot help the feeling that our emotional distances will continue to widen so long as the increasingly urban, technocratic societies we live in ignore wide green spaces, the ones that remind us how insignificant are these devices, how humble and free our lives can be without them.
We don’t have to live in those places, but we shouldn’t pretend we don’t need them. And even when we visit them, we tend not to appreciate what makes them valuable. I spent Saturday afternoon in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, steering clear as much as possible from the photographers, wedding groupies and family outings that seem more like a series of Facebook photo-ops — tortuous for anyone trying to actually enjoy the place. Smile, honey! No, stay still okay? No. STAY STILL! (The photo at left was taken from the Botanic Garden’s website.)
In looking for the quiet places, I found, quite by accident, dozens of the lizards and butterflies that so captivated my youth in the cactus lands of South Texas. Back then, it was also snakes and spiders, as often as not, but those experiences doubtlessly endowed me with a joy of exploration, inside and out, that children now quickly forget. If the dazzling computer screens ever let them discover it in the first place.
It’s hard to care about such experiences. We’re adults. We pass the threshold of exploration to find all those “important concerns” on the other side. Concerns that are, of course, self-justifying. But this new technology obsession prevents children from learning a joy that cannot be bought with grown-up dollars. And grown-ups from re-learning the wisdom of the young.
Is Facebook making us lonely? I don’t know. But I didn’t take a photo or check the Internet for a single moment Saturday. As experiences go — plugged in or not — I highly recommend it.