In a column published Tuesday in Poltico, Congressman Joe Scarborough expressed his dismay over how the Internet has supposedly tainted our culture by promoting a form of “instant intimacy” that is devoid of those qualities inherent to building meaningful relationships.
Mr. Scarborough was especially perturbed by Facebook, which he believes “is cynically feeding the narcissistic appetites of a self-consumed culture that is populated by teenage vulgarians, desperate housewives and bored men.” He also said that Facebook is distracting students and professionals from their work.
Though Mr. Scarborough’s claim that Facebook disrupts productivity certainly reigns true-I waste at least two hours per day reading and responding to status updates; mind you, the majority of them are related to news-all his other allegations seem both superfluous and lacking in evidence.
According to Mr. Scarborough, social networking sites like Facebook are hampering our ability as humans to bond with one another on a genuinely intimate level. However, what is to say that online interactions are any less meaningful than face-to-face interactions. Perhaps I’m simply blinded by autism, which greatly inhibits my ability to relate with others on a face-to-face basis, but personally, I have found Facebook to be a wonderful tool for establishing and maintaining meaningful contact with others.
As a young child, I never spoke a word to my peers. Even during recess. I merely stood on the outskirts of the kickball field, lost in my own imagination. After being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and subsequently medicated in 7th grade, I gradually started speaking to others, though only when absolutely necessary.
Fifteen years have passed since I was diagnosed, yet I still experience great trepidation when dealing with others in the real world. No matter how much I practice communicating by voice, I will likely always be inhibited to one degree or another by autism. This, however, doesn’t hold true for the Internet-a world in which I’m free to express myself without either fear or shame.
Granted, when I first began my online journey, I had no shame. I was a vulgar teenage ruffian bent on “talking mad stuff,” “smacking haters,” and displaying my purported intellectual dominance. But as I grew up, so did my online persona. I began using proper grammar and punctuation, I started thinking before I typed, and I gradually became a successful and productive ‘cyber citizen’ with a bevy of ‘cyber jobs’ and ‘cyber friends.’
I still have a few real-life associates with whom I share laughs or beers every now and again, but frankly, none of them have ever provided me with as much intellectual stimulation and down-to-Earth conversation as my Facebook friends. Perhaps this is due to my inability to attract worthwhile friends. Regardless, I would gladly give up my so-called ‘real friends’ any day over my online friends. They may not know my mannerisms and how badly I smell, but they certainly know me better than those in real life.
I realize, though, that I don’t represent the majority of Americans. There are many cases of perfectly socially capable men and women who’ve developed an obsessive relationship with the Internet, and in doing so jeopardized relationships with not only their friends, but also their family as well. By the same token, there are countless folks who are almost too social-to the point that they have more real-life friends than the average Facebook user. They wander about from bar to bar, befriending anyone who seems friendly enough. Aren’t their relationships as devoid of meaning as those online relationships Mr. Scarborough so fervently claims are destroying the very essence of human intimacy?
A wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Scarborough that “maybe we should all start paying closer attention to who we are becoming as a society.” An emotional disconnect has pervaded our society. This is evident by the tragic rise in juvenile criminals, mass shootings, and outright hatred like none I’ve ever witnessed before in my life. Nevertheless, I’m certain in my heart that simply hitting the ‘log out’ button will not solve any our problems as a society. These issues of detachment, obsession, and dare I say frolic (think ‘Jersey Show’) plaguing our society are endemic to much larger problems.
I understand that Facebook itself can be a problem, but so can anything else: money (gambling), food (obesity), sex (STDs), and even love (obsession). So instead of bemoaning the creation of a new form of communication, one that has greatly benefited many people like me, not to mention those individuals fighting for freedom in tyrannical regimes like Egypt, shouldn’t we instead try to determine what exactly is causing such disharmony among us-be it the erosion of values, the rise in vitriolic rhetoric, or even poor parenting?
You know, my life revolves around the Internet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the value of real-life relationships. Nothing can ever replace that which links me to my parents, my brother, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, and my grandmother. To me, Facebook is only a tool-a means to an end. I imagine that the majority of all Facebook users share this sentiment.
That said, why is there still such a disconnect among us? Why do some people put the Internet over their real friends and family? Why do some folks cherish their random bar friends more than they do those whom they’ve known all their lives? Why do some teenagers spend all day texting on the phone? Why am I unable to find meaningful friendship in the real world?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. All I know is that Facebook isn’t the problem. But the question remains: what is?