"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

american ethos and modern loneliness, but what's it got to do with Facebook?

since becoming unemployed and moving to a locale with lack of excellent weather, proliferation of mosquitoes and other blood-sucking bugs, and a lack of attractions, i've spent most mornings (into nights) reading articles on the internet and learning a lot. although i abhorred being unemployed for the good part of my summer, i have recently (read: as of JUST NOW) come to LOVE it. thank god for the internet and Wikipedia. i can spend literally DAYS opening millions of tabs and consuming them voraciously. gobble gobble!

i spent this morning reading a long list of terrific articles online, nytimes and newsweek and gizmodo and mostly, and thought i'd share this really great article, a review less about the upcoming Facebook movie than a consideration of modern loneliness and social debilitation as a result of / exacerbated by / evidenced by technologies such as Facebook. extremely extremely fascinating (consider: debilitation caused not by lack of access but by TOO much availability, social disability as a result of excess of mediums). great, great stuff!

some highlights from the article, in case you do actually have a day job and need to be on your way:
Fifty years before Mark Zuckerberg arrived at Harvard—back when facebooks were actually books, back when poking a friend had a whole different set of connotations—Thornton Wilder came to campus to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures. He devoted one of them to “the loneliness that accompanies independence and the uneasiness that accompanies freedom.” Raising such difficult subjects made him uncomfortable, he recalled later, but he felt better knowing that all of his listeners were American. It meant that “these experiences are not foreign to anyone here.”
The film turns out to have less in common with other campus caper flicks than with Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s masterful new novel about an imploding family. Nobody comes right out and says that Zuckerberg and his associates (I almost said friends) don’t know how to live, as someone says of the Berglunds early in Franzen’s book, but the trouble appears to be the same. And the reason why both the book and the film resonate—why they stick with you afterward—is that plenty of the rest of us have that trouble too. By suggesting that a modern kind of loneliness led an obnoxious hacker to start Facebook, the film helps pinpoint our own loneliness—the feelings of aimlessness and isolation that make us do things like sign up for Facebook.
Zuckerberg and his employees spend enormous time and energy trying to make people connect to each other via their online social network, but they’ve got the situation backward. The route to a happy life, let alone a meaningful one, doesn’t lie in escaping loneliness. As Wilder tried to tell his audience, it is an inescapable part of living in a country as big and free and unencumbered as this one. The trick for us, and for the people around the world living as we do, lies in using our loneliness. Wilder stated the challenge best and for all time when he described “the typical American battle of trying to convert a loneliness into an enriched and fruitful solitude.” Like the Berglunds—or another touchstone of contemporary culture, Don Draper—these characters can’t get along with each other because they haven’t learned to get along with, and don’t even really know, themselves.

When you log into Facebook after the film—and you know you will—you might find that it feels a little different. On one hand, hanging around the site begins to seem like a bad idea. In a world that’s ever noisier and more demanding, it only gets harder to develop a “fruitful solitude” when dozens or hundreds of friends are constantly a click away. This round-the-clock aspect of Facebook, the perpetual presence of somebody to distract you from your anxieties and fears, begins to feel like being stuck in college.

The bigger shift, though, lies in how poignant Facebook suddenly seems. A site that began as a response to modern loneliness looks, after the film, like a record of our own struggle with that condition. The insistent connecting can’t fix what really ails us, but we go on doing it anyway.


enjoy it, as i did.

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