Mar 11, 2010

Private Parts

It's safe to say that our culture of online social networking is something that's here to stay. Since the Roman Empire, humans have been building roads and connecting with each other, and the world has since been getting smaller and smaller. And the internet is making this inter-human connection exponentialling greater every day via email, text messaging, blogs, and social networking sites.

Some will say that as the (metaphorical) world keeps getting smaller, the individual grows more and more lonely. We're losing face-to-face contact, they'll say, in exchange for mere 1's and 0's. And on top of that, the individual's privacy and people-skills are wrongfully compromised in exchange for instant access to anything and everything.

Connectivity, it seems, is the bad guy.

To this arguement, I present last Monday's episode of (...wait for it...) House. While treating a blogger who's spilled her entire personal life to her readers (including details of her marriage), House wonders why someone would purposefully give up their wealth of privacy in a modern, industrial, and privatized world where human connection (read: vulnerability) is only useful for self-service, thank you very much.

To this, Taub (a.ka. "the short one") and Chase respond, "It's for community and connectivity. Privacy is a modern invention. People used to know everything about everyone living in their village; now, the village is the whole world, and its people still want to be connected to each other." (Paraphrased.)

This got me thinking about the argument above that says as the world gets smaller, the individual gets more lonely.

I disagree. Privacy--at least to the extent to which Western culture values it--is the bad guy. This kind of privacy, where individuals only connect with people on a how-can-you-help-me basis, is an invention of modernity. (Yes, I read too much Brian McLaren. No, I didn't copy this from one of his books. Yes, you may make fun of me.) I used to, like House, wonder why people would blog about their thoughts, as if they think they're some kind of real journalist; or bug me with a Twitter feed about their latest workout routine, because obviously excercising is only effective if you tell somebody about it. But in an emerging postmodern world it seems that people (like myself) are rediscovering the value of that constant connectivity. They're craving it, and finding it on the internet.

As I've learned to embrace this thought myself, rather than taking on an attitude of "all I need is me (and God, of course, because I'm a good Christian... but really, just me)", I've found it very liberating:
  • I don't need to be famous anymore. My friends and family love me more than those 10,000 people in the audience.
  • What I do (i.e., my vocation) no longer defines me. I define what I do. And I define myself by what has been done for me. (See previous post, Blue-light Special on Grace.)
  • Rugged individualism no longer holds any appeal to me. Western work-ethic is a good lesson, but all of its side effects--The nuclear household, the SUV, the shame in asking someone for help and the guilt of having to return their favor--are bullshit. I shouldn't have to avoid community in order to be myself.
I realize I'm mainly talking to myself here. And I realize that blogging about blogging might blow a hole straight through my point. But actually, maybe not... I mean, if I lived in a little village, I'd be sharing this with someone, albeit face-to-face, perhaps while stroking some udders or fetching water. Perhaps the visual que of face-to-face contact is less important than the contact. Really, I can look at someone and talk to them every day and never get to know them. Maybe as technology increases and our constant exposure to visual stimuli via media, urban-life, etc., becomes more overwhelming, we look for a deeper meaning of community beyond the skin-deep visual que.

Maybe 1's and 0's aren't as shallow as people think. And besides... The medium of community has never been a village, an udder, or the internet. You are the medium.