Neophiilism and Isolation, or “Is Facebook Hell”?

At NRO this morning, Matthew Shaffer looks at cultural trends and covers some ground I’ve been plowing of late. He’s talking about the fact that much of modern society seems driven toward isolation. When we assume that certain people (the elderly or infirm, for example) are the government’s responsibility, we lose certain connections with those people:

FDR’s Social Security used Leviathan to free the elderly from want; the obverse was freeing of duty the children who might have cared for them more holistically, and more humanly. The aged now have the money, shared to them by a faceless officialdom, to live in retirement independent of their children, and no longer die in family homes, but in expensive hospitals, away from grandchildren, who learn of the departure not with eyes at the bedside but by a phone call from Florida. (The welfare state generally entails a weakening of ties between all, rich and poor of the same age, employed and unemployed on the same block, etc.)

This separation has other consequences:

Now, with youth the highest aesthetic, and health valorized as an ideal, there is something dirty about the elderly. Age is not something to be venerated for the wisdom it confers, but is scorned as a disease or even a failing[.]

I would contend that this is the corporeal manifestation of the neophilia I talked about recently.

He compares this lessening of connection between people with the Hell of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, where people in Hell simply move away from the things, and especially the people,  that make them uncomfortable, rather than dealing with them and becoming better in the process.

This, in turn, led me to the section that caught my eye:

Facebook appears to have been modeled on C. S. Lewis’s Hell. It is the acme of modernized society, allowing us unrestrained control over our relationships — we literally choose the face that others see, and can start or end a friendship by tapping a finger. These friendships never become inconvenient, because no obligation can impose itself through the digital medium. The irony of Facebook, and of modernity’s expansion of social autonomy generally, is that total, unlimited cosmopolitanism in the end produces more parochialism, homogenization, and even chauvinism than geographical confinement does: I can now commune with people all over the world of all nationalities and tongues and races who are just like me. As human interactions become less contingent on geography, and more on the preferences of digital cosmopolites, communities became more horizontal — incorporating similar kinds of people across broad territories — and less vertical.

Children refuse to “friend” parents or grandparents on Facebook (the writer is guilty), not for fear of revealing something incriminating but because youths’ online communities have invented internal jokes, norms, and ironies that are awkwardly unintelligible at a distance of a decade or more. On the new digital globe, the generations are separate nations. A twentysomething trying to explain to his mother why, at the frivolous end, a video of an “Auto-Tune cat” is funny, or why, at the political end, his generation is resolved that it is taboo and a stigma to oppose same-sex marriage, will have as much luck as the Hawaiian natives had with Captain Cook. There have always been slangs and mores local to the youth, but online communities have aggravated the differences and made the enclosed bands more chronologically narrow.

There’s plenty of food for thought here. Have a few bites.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to Neophiilism and Isolation, or “Is Facebook Hell”?

  1. Alpheus says:

    G.K. Chesterton made the point that “love thy neighbor” is a good commandment because one’s neighbor could be anybody at all. He also pointed out that people who don’t like to interact with those they feel are beneath them aren’t the Nietzschean supermen they often fancy themselves to be; really, they’re just people who can’t cope with difference.

  2. J. Otto Pohl says:

    I thought the article was pretty good. I never have figured out the appeal of face book. It seems people just collect “friends” like kids used to collect baseball cards.

  3. nightfly says:

    As a tool to reconnect with distant friends, Facebook is not a bad thing… except that picking up the phone is better. A written letter is better still – even without a reply, the other party has a tangible thing that was once in your possession, now filled with your own handwriting, that can be read often.

    I tried the whole Facebook thing… tired of it very quickly. My account is most likely dormant. If I could be bothered to remember my password, I’d delete the whole thing.

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