Sunday, October 18, 2009

Virtual Friends.

Facebook: Dante.

Does new technology have a positive or negative influence on connections in life? That is an interesting question. I have more than a few reservations when I see people umbilically connected to their iPods or absorbed in texting to the point that they are unaware of the world around them. The pull of the virtual world is considerable… In August, the Catholic Church initiated a powerful attack on virtual social networking. Archbishop Vincent Nichols attacked what he termed “transient relationships” created by social network sites. His term “transient” is an interesting metaphor: it suggests impermanence, like migrant, a coming and going, here today and gone tomorrow. To some extent, I can align myself with his view. I completely fail to understand how a Facebook devotee might have 1000 friends plus. What purpose do so many “friends” serve? Such debases the term “friend”. It seems to reflect modern promiscuity—the more that merrier—and quantity rather that quality. And that is probably the hidden fear behind the Church’s attack. Promiscuous friendships like sexual relationships undermine the family core so valued by religious groups. That does, however, beg a question: does the family core constitute a protective ands supportive model anymore? Is social networking breaking down the family or is it the failure of the family that makes social networking both inviting and necessary?

Archbishop Nichols singled out Facebook and MySpace as the new anti-social demons. Both are disturbing metaphors. Facebook by its very name suggests its superficiality: let’s be faces to each another. And MySpace is filled with egotistic echoes…my territory…it sounds so very important, yet it about at significant as a Star Spangled Banner on the Moon. Do the countless number of stars in deepest space care at all? Superficiality and egotism certainly play their parts on Facebook and MySpace. But surely, there is another side to virtual connections.

“Transience” does not bother me that much. Human encounters are “transient”. The Thou comes and goes. The It takes over. Here, the Church, appears to have the wrong word as its enemy. What fascinates in the world of blogging—to move beyond Facebook and MySpace and Twittering—is the unexpected encounters, the meetings with people that could not happen in real life. And these are often significant encounters! Certainly, in the time I have blogged I have encountered people who have made my life more purposeful. What Archbishop Nicholls has not addressed is the fact that the virtual world can bring new qualities into people’s lives. If life is restricted to the house or street or village in which a person lives, which was once the case in the past, the result is a limited existence. Far from undermining human conversation, the virtual world offers new possibilities: it allows individuals to seek out minds like theirs.

In his essay on Friendship, Cicero offered some incisive views. Friendship was a physical entity, words shared by two people as they met face to face. But he also widened that concept—by metaphor—to suggest something more. A friend is a second-self. A friend brings light and is a reflection in a mirror. The images of Cicero would later become the world of Humanism rich in its open fields of knowledge and communication. Facebook and MySpace are shadows in a Platonic world of light, not the radiant world of human communication.


Jude Dibia said...

Interesting! Social networking sites are useful to artists i.e. musicians, writers, actors et al, especially when they want to reach out to 'fans' and sell more CDs, books or promote a movie. One should only take them for their 'face value' (no pun intended). As a platform to hook-up with people for dating and otherwise, I really can't say much about this. One, it is dangerous to start any form of relationship with someone you haven't really met. But on the other hand, I have, like you, come across fascinating people over the years via the web who have enriched my life and knowledge.

Eshuneutics said...

I think your pun is a very good one, exactly the right one. It is indeed dangerous to start a relationship with someone who has never been meet...think Erika :-)

Id it is said...

How can it be transient if it's a relationship? The virtual world by definition is 'on the waves/ in the air' thus transient. Anyone looking for permanence on the web is definitely in the wrong place. However, if one is in an exploratory mood then the virtual world is quite the paradise for how much and how varied you can find! However, a click can make it all disappear. Unfortunately there are many of us who either delude or forget this obvious reality of the virtual world and tend to seek tangibility and permanence in their browsing voyages, and that is how the web gets maligned.
...or so I think :)

Eshuneutics said...

The web is very much Alice through the Looking Glass.
There is a seeming contradiction between relationship and transience. But I am thinking in terms of Buber and relationship. For him, the Thou of the relationship is transient--you meet the whole person for a short while. People--traditionally--try to drag this out. I think there is a confusion between transient and casual in many minds. Personally, I have no interest in the casual. I do accept, however, that I have learnt more from relationships that have been intense and transient than some which have endured steadily for long periods of time. To relate, I am suggesting, does not imply to stick to like a limpet...nor does it imply to come and go like a fish. It connotes brief, intense connectivity. I share all your reservations about the tempting nature of the www.

Harlequin said...

I agree with your distinction between social networking ( like facebook and myspace) and blogs devoted to more expressive communicative encounters... I, to have experienced the delightful encounters and engaged exchange of ideas in the blogging context.
a mentor of mine proposes that communication is not the ground, but the goal.... and this is something I seek in the blogs I frequent.
thanks for this thoughtful post.

Eshuneutics said...

Hello, Harlequin, you make an important distinction. I would say what you say in relation to poetry: I quest for poems that have language as their goal, for the poet's passion is rooted there. The same belief carries me into favourite (and significant) blogs. I find little difference in relating to a well-written blog and a well-written novel.