Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, the Inanity!

“They will reap the whirlwind,” a middle-age acquaintance prognosticated recently while speaking of the explosion of electronic social networking, particularly among the younger generation.

“Eventually they won’t know how to interact verbally or how to read body language. They won’t know how dating or courting works and they’ll end up with a bunch of superficial relationships that lack the joy and connection that can only be found in deep human relationships,” he opined. “And then when they’re at that state, they won’t be able to recapture what has been lost.”

I think similar fears have been expressed over the millennia as humans have moved from tribalism to the modern extended order. I’m sure that some tribal elders were freaked out when they saw younger people starting to use writing for communication. They’d sit around shaking their heads, saying, “In another couple of generations all of the oral histories will be lost. Don’t expect those clay tablets to last.”

If you think about all of the fears of the older curmudgeons stretching back into the mists of time, they were often somewhat correct in their forecasts. The oral histories died out. The profound sense of belonging to a tight group whose members were entirely economically and socially co-dependent faded out with the expansion of the extended order.

But in another sense, the curmudgeons were wrong. Since the future is difficult to see, they failed to envision the marvelous and good things that came out of the social and technological advancements they feared. Although there have been some stupendous attempts to thwart ideas whose times have come — some even lasting generations — the overall trend is clear. Though uneven the course may be, and often fraught with opposition, society eventually adopts compelling progress.

Count me as one of those refusing to come into the new age. So far, I have successfully avoided the brave new world of Facebook, and I have yet too much of a sense of dignity to stoop to Twitter. There are some things that ought to be private, even if some people insist on assaulting others with the most mundane facets of their pathetic lives. Unless you live in my home, there’s no reason for me to know that you’re at the supermarket contemplating which toothpaste to buy.

My wife recently gave into peer pressure from several lifelong friends to get a Facebook account. She admits that if she weren’t such a busy mom, she could easily waste many hours daily at the computer. As it is, she checks Facebook about twice per week. While there are some features she enjoys, her main impression is that it is an incessant source of inanity. Some of the senseless communication is easy to block; some is not.

My older children look at me like I’m from another century. Maintaining a blog site and using an email client are soooooooo old fashioned. On the other hand, they think that middle-aged people trolling Facebook are pretty creepy.

In a throwback to the don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 sentiment of the ‘hip’ era, Facebook is the domain of the younger generation. (And apparently also of junky furniture. I recently discovered that our 1987 vintage couch in the basement has its own Facebook account.)

Anyway, what would it profit me to argue with an age group for whom Facebook is equal to beer and only behind iPods in popularity? (Or at least, that was the case back in 2006, which is three eons ago at the current pace of change.) Actually, my kids don’t have a problem with old fogies being on Facebook, as long as they stay in their own sphere. It’s OK for a parent to be a ‘friend,’ but that’s it.

I suspect that I will stay on the outside looking in at Facebook until modern necessity drags me kicking and screaming into social networking. I suppose I could stay out for years, becoming a member of the cyber-Amish that refuse to bow to the modern demands for social networking, but I’m not that passionate about it.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see what the current penchant for electronic social networking evolves into over the next generation. Will they find a way to keep it from becoming a paradise for ID thieves?

Despite my current lack of enthusiasm for Facebook, I’m not about to prophesy that it only portends a dark and evil future. History has too many examples of advances that have brought more good things than they destroyed. Although the curmudgeons have always been right about some things, they have never owned the future.


Cameron said...

I'm 31 and my parents and grandparents fall into the demonize facebook group. I joined the party late, only signing up for an account this summer. But I love it. I've reconnected with people from school and from the mission field, and I've found it has actually enhanced my real life relationships with people in my neighborhood.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Studies have actually found that (college age) Facebook users tend to have better offline interpersonal relationships and social skills than those that refrain from electronic social networking.