Date: November 24th, 2022 9:49 AM
Author: Adolf Anderssen
The internet has enabled new types of relationships and thus influenced several generations' identities.
It used to be that you were friends with, if anyone, the people who lived around you. With good friends, you might find you share common interests, and perhaps delve into the depths of them; they come to recognize you for certain things, like a bartender who knows a patron's favorite drink, and just how to make it. This was a learning process; it took time and training. You would not expect to just turn around and find someone who in your town who was deep into some obscure interest of yours.
(A consequence of this old pattern is that culture itself was common. In the past everybody read the Bible. Putting aside any thoughts on religion, a virtue in this common culture is that it gives people a common tongue, much like Romans and Greeks came up with corresponding Gods so they could parlay and swear oaths to end battles.)
But now, with the internet, we've traded off 'depth' for 'breadth.' These days a woman who loves dogs (amorously or no) doesn't simply befriend dog lovers in her town; she can instead discover that her favorite dog breed is certain type of corgi, and find an Instagram devoted to that type of corgi instantly. Dudes can discover the precise type of porn they enjoy and blast their brains with it. And in general, a person of many interests can find many acquaintances, each of whom shares some extremely narrow interest, while really getting to know none of them. A pointillist painting of personal relationships with pixels. People have traded depth for breadth.
This situation raises a mystery: if people are getting their preferences satisfied to a far greater degree of precision than before, why are they so unhappy & alienated? Because of the relationships' quality. Shared interests were never all that important, save as a mark or sign or guidepost to our shared souls. They were meant to bring us together and keep us in one another's orbits, and then slough away. But now, people are getting stuck in the launch phase in perpetuity, like a kid who just watches the fight scenes in a kungfu movie, or a man who listens to just the climax of a classical composition on a loop.
Defining yourself in relation to others in terms of external 'interests' is a phase---adolescence---that should in proper course be outgrown. I'm not talking here about those who engage in a particular activity---a sport, say---that is part of their job (athletes), or work (craftsmen); these, to be sure, may through technique attain artistry and virtue. But the endless list of passive 'enthusiasms' that people now think they can happily pursue on social media in place of real human interaction only leads to an impoverished sense of identity.
But people do not outgrow adolescence these days. Society encourages arrested development; people grow up propagandized to see life as an endless series of diversions and trivialities, interspersed with confected shame and bloodguilt. They thus remain in the pupal phase of their lives---where everything is about MY INTERESTS, MY WANTS, MY NEEDS---until they find themselves old, alone, unloved, unwanted, and irrelevant, just a predeceased ghost mournfully wondering what happened to the years---and the real human relationships---that slipped away. They don't stick with relationships; they don't have kids; they do nothing of substance. They are consumerism's ultimate product.
What can be done? Contra Ted K., I don't think we can put the genie back in the bottle. The only way out is through. We must use the internet, and all these other new technologies, in a way that brings us closer together, not further apart. We must use them to build relationships, not destroy them. To nurture the soul and delight the spirit, not rot the mind in a festering swamp of consumerism and entertainment.
That is why, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful not only for my family & loved ones, but also for the deeply alienated mentally ill weirdos who populate this decaying stronghold of free speech on the internet.