Why do we post endlessly on Facebook, scroll through 140-character mini-screes and schticks on Twitter, sit, mindless mostly, staring at our computer screens?
I can’t speak for others. But I turn to news and social media to fill space; to, in some sort of vague way, find connection; to fish for interesting information and ideas. Sometimes I find something worthwhile; my friend Jeff Seglin yesterday posted a New York Times essay, “The Joy of Quiet,” about the lengths and expense to which more and more people are going to evade and avoid the wired world. Wrote Pico Iyer:
In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.
Hmm. Sound familiar?
Facebook and Twitter to me ultimately taste a bit like a soy burger. Please forgive me, my vegetarian friends, but where is the beef? I leave feeling no more connected than I would if I were attending a lecture on love and commitment alone. I feel no more satisfied either and, often, I feel more restless, more self-critical then when I signed on.
So why do I have accounts on Facebook and Twitter anyway? Largely, I imagine, to conform. I teach journalism, and both are places to go for a range of stories and sources. I ignore social media at my peril, even as a tenured professor who, at this point, spends more time day-dreaming about where I eventually want to live (you know, after I’m no longer working for pay) than about the next big thing in the world of news.
I use them, too, I confess, in the hope that perhaps others will click onto my next echoing call into the endless canyon that is cyberspace — that maybe, this time, I’ll write a blog or three for more than my cat and dog and old friends in Arizona. Maybe I will be worthy of a “like” or a “retweet.” Maybe, oh just maybe, one of you will even post a comment.
But then what? I don’t wish to be too existential before your second cup of coffee, but it is sort of pathetic, isn’t it? It saddens me to see students so tethered to their smart phones that they can’t see the sunshine or the scene before them. But I feel equally bad for myself for getting sucked into this online world of empty calories.
Yes, I know all about the search for “serendipity,” the discovery of simpatico online communities, the exciting shrinking multicultural universe that’s ours at the click of a mouse. But is it a good tradeoff to watch a screen eight or nine hours a day, as Iyer writes that we do? Is that a worthy alternative to the reading we don’t do, the music we don’t listen too attentively, the walks we never take, the real conversations we no longer have? Is it?
The digital world is generational and I, no doubt, am on the wrong side of the divide. But I’m curious. Why do you scour the links and lines of hundreds of “friends,” most no more than casual, if amiable, acquaintances? What’s the draw? Are we really gaining new insights into life? Is it relaxing?
Or are we really all that lonely?