(Swans - November 20, 2010) The three overriding impulses behind Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking sites that glut the Internet, are egotism, ostentation, trivia, and quests for projecting identity.
The underlying impulse behind all this frantic networking is the veiled desire to affirm both one's ego and one's identity. The result is a gusher of trivia that is almost psychotic in its ferocity and pathetic in its quest for attention. But perhaps its greatest fault is that by embracing trivia and fostering human contact it demeans the English language. In the course of its flippant abbreviations both of speech and thought, it banishes certain values, which it has taken centuries to develop and, in place of creativity, it champions banality and encourages self-adulation.
By constantly aggrandizing commonplace events and raising them to the level of intellectual insights, it mocks genuine thought processes and abbreviates genuine feelings which hitherto constituted natural communication between authors and their public. It is a kind of shorthand scrawl that belittles literature (i.e., well-constructed sentences with well-honed meanings) and acts as a kind of mute on genuine feelings. Although it peddles books and descriptions of thought processes which we associate with intellectualism, it is intrinsically anti-intellectual because it never rises from the lowest realms of egocentricity. Old friends or new acquaintances obsessed with enhancing commonplace activities to the level of "breaking news" never realize that it isn't "news" at all but varieties of transient chatter dressed up as "breaking news."
What this does in the long run (and it is usually mired in "short runs") is to demean transient events by relaying minutiae packaged as meaningful insights about taste, personal activities, and non-events; a kind of shortened form of expression which in assuming familiarity transmits random thoughts as if they were precious haiku.
It takes an enormous presumption to believe that the outside world is actually interested in the banalities of old friends or superficial new acquaintances. It suggests a delusionary state on the part of its users which is fixated on egocentricity. Its humor and jollity resemble the behavior of mental patients on the cusp of schizophrenia. The "commonplace" is its hunting ground and it never runs out of mundane discoveries.
Only in a nation stricken with gloom and despair could such an impulse take root. The search for "friends" is a pathetic cry from people who virtually blind themselves to the fact that its camaraderie is essentially bogus. After all, friendship is rooted in deep experiences shared over a period of years, often decades. One cannot "make" a friend without some kind of deep-rooted past which endures into the present. The "friends" on a Web site like Facebook deceive themselves into believing their social circle is in some magical way increased simply because they have found synchronicity with people who, moments ago, were virtual strangers. But the shared experience which creates true friendships are frequently missing from those speedily obtained intimacies.
Ultimately, we are dealing here with a kind of national neurosis which measures its success by the number of deputies it can add to its posse. What it really does is to reveal the depth of angst which underlies all efforts to enhance those of us whom Thoreau neatly pegged as "living lives of quiet desperation." One might argue that in this it serves a genuine social purpose, befriending the friendless and diverting the lonely. It is cheaper, I suppose, than enlisting the services of a shrink but, whereas in all analyses, there is a desire to transcend delusions and come to terms with reality, in the case of social networking the incentive is to relay the impersonal under the guise of the personal.
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