If you know me for more than a few hours, you will probably learn that I have mixed feelings about social networking.
I am not a Luddite. I recognize the value of technology.
But I also think it is important to question whether the technologies that currently shape people’s lives are actually making life better or worse.
And I believe that a strong argument could be made that generic social networking — and Facebook in particular — cheapens human relationships.
The rise of social networking was supposed to make people happier by giving them more access to the personal thoughts and online habits of their friends.
This was supposed to create better friendships and relationships.
But as these social networks have multiplied, the opposite appears to be true. In fact, the rise of social networking has created ominous problems related to the rise of surveillance and the breakdown of privacy.
And in particular, I believe that confining human relationships to computer screens ultimately cheapens and deadens them.
I still remember the days when I had a rotary phone, connected to the wall. I used to call up friends and make appointments to meet them. Sometimes we would catch up for half an hour or so.
I never felt the phone replaced the friendship — only enhanced it.
I do not feel the same way about Facebook.
I am uncomfortable that Facebook labels every person I know as a “friend.” That is a bold claim.
A friend is someone with whom there is a life long connection, a bond forged from common experience and even common troubles. A person must survive a “shock of adversity” before he or she is entitled to the term, to quote George Washington.
That is not the case with Facebook friends. They would be more accurately called “contacts”.
Maybe it makes some people happy to think they have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook.
I would prefer the company of one honest, heartfelt friend than a website that pretends to tell me I have 1,000 such connections.
I am uncomfortable that so much of human interaction is distilled to photographs and wall posts. There is so much about human experience that goes beyond the visual — touch, smell, auditory stimulation, emotion, vibration — yet social networks are divorced from these other sensations.
Friends recognize each other through sound (the human voice, a recognizable gait), mannerisms, and even through familiar scents; but Facebook (and the internet more generally) does not provide us with these equally valid impressions of other people.
I am uncomfortable that so much of my personality is reduced to simple statements about what I like, where I have been, and with whom I am connected.
Walt Whitman famously observed, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
This inner multitude has no place on Facebook. Facebook is more concerned with creating a binary-friendly set of inputs that can serve as a stepping stone towards monetization of personal data to third party entities. That’s a nice way of saying they take what people say and do and sell it to others.
I am mystified about Facebook’s popularity. Most honest people who stop to think about Facebook conclude that it is a pointless waste of time which only serves some voyeuristic purpose, ultimately dangerous to personal privacy.
I believe that any hour on Facebook would be much better spent with a real friend in real life.
Life is little more than a collection of memory. Those who understand this live a life of joy, because they focus on creating joyful memories.
If social networking serves to aid in creating joyful memories, then it is a wonderful thing.
But to the extent that it acts only as a distraction or even as an instrument of surveillance, then it is folly.
People should be wary of the things they do on the online frontier. Like the frontier 100 years ago, it is a Wild West, and law has not caught up with the technological developments now shaping society.
In person communication and all that it entailed is how people interacted for thousands of years; it is how they laughed, how they fell in love, how they argued and how they resolved their differences.
For some reason, people are eager to dispose of reality and replace it with the cold blue glow of the computer monitor.
If you need to reach me: email me. Or call me. I don’t use Facebook.
Every American is familiar with two major political parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party traces its roots to Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. The Republican Party traces its roots to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
Parties have come and gone: the Federalists, the Whigs, the Know-Nothings, and the Free Silver parties were important organizations at some point or another.
They are obscure and forgotten today.
The dominance of America’s two-party system is taken for granted. But it is interesting: political parties are nowhere mentioned in America’s founding papers.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say a lot of things. But they never mention political parties.
They certainly don’t mention Republican or Democrat.
Many of the Framers feared the rise of political parties. One outspoken opponent of party was America’s first president and war hero, George Washington.
Washington gave a speech when he left office, his “Farewell Address“. He called political parties the “worst enemy” of government. It was in “the interest and duty of a wise people” to discourage and restrain the “common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party.”
Washington believed in the importance of virtue. What does “virtue” mean? For Washington, and for many of the Framers, virtue meant selflessness: valuing the well being of the country as a whole over the narrow interests of a few.
Washington said that virtue was the “necessary spring of popular government.” ”Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?”
Virtue was the essence of maturity, and even masculinity: the word “virtue” comes from the Latin word “vir,” which means “a man.”
John Adams, America’s second President, defined virtue this way:
“There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power, and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public passion must be superior to all private passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private pleasures, passions, and interests, nay their private friendships and dearest connections, when they stand in competition with the rights of society.”
One of America’s greatest writers, Mark Twain, condemned party loyalty as well. He wrote:
Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction.
Times have changed over the last few hundred years. Virtue is largely absent from modern politics, replaced with party loyalty.
But party loyalty at all costs — be it to the Democratic or Republican Party — hurts America.
It is time to question whether loyalty to party is as important as loyalty to country.
Parties may be useful for grouping together people who share the same political philosophy. But whatever usefulness exists through the current party system is overshadowed by the us-versus-them mentality that now controls so many minds.
No matter if the party is corrupt, or duplicitous, or engages in activities that are harmful to democracy; the only thing that matters in party politics is that your party wins and the other one loses.
In fact, the whole notion of “Red” and “Blue” states is corrosive to America, splitting the American public in a way that hinders the public good.
The result is a type of “zombie politics”, where individual Americans unthinkingly fall in lock-step behind a political leader and party without considering the consequences of the policy.
Consider a world without the chains of political party, a world where candidates simply ran on their individual position. Without the backdrop of a party, candidates could propose novel or creative solutions without needing to worry about a larger party agenda.
More candidates — and more ideas — could enter the field.
And without the label of a political party, citizens would have to pay attention to the candidate and engage in critical thinking to determine if the policies made sense and were worthwhile.
For the last fifty years, corporate power, the size of government, militant foreign policies and the division between rich and poor have all increased dramatically — regardless of who has been in office. Clinton expanded government, but so did George W. Bush. Nixon bombed Vietnam, but it was Kennedy who got America involved. George W. Bush lied to the public to start a war in Iraq, but Johnson did the same thing in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Can this republic flourish — or even survive — if smart, well-intentioned people put party first and country second?
The problems that challenge an entire country require solutions that will be in the best interests of everyone — not just Democrat or Republican.
Genuine betterment of America will not be the work of a single party: only of a single people, united, who place the interests of everyone ahead of the interests of a privileged few.
It will require a recognition and resurrection of virtue as a political force — the same virtue that animated America’s founders.
Time to look beyond party.