Continuing from Selves.
The Necessary Reaction to The Enclosure of the Commons
The most obvious profanity right now, Facebook, provides an example of how proactively and willingly humans will replace interaction with sterilized modes of it; how swiftly it will become normal; and, how seriously they'll treat the end result. Namely, people are willing to use Facebook primarily not as a buttress to, but as a replacement for, human interaction.
Not living close together to someone who had assisted you necessitated the thank-you visit, to show you cared--because a living community would include a constant tide of requests, fulfillments, and gratitudes. As the commons were enclosed, factories and lordships severed the worker from the land, and turned people into expendable free-floaters who had to "find" a job to survive. The advent of modern formal manners was in the creation of a thank-you "visit," a necessity when people who cared about each other began living in different places from one another so that they could till different sections of soil or hammer different lines.
Reconnecting with all of your middle school friends on Facebook is only a more advanced, cheaper, less personalized "catching up" than the catching up that already had to happen when lords shattered communities so that shifting populations of migrant workers would find less filial and communal support while filling the ranks of standing armies or factory shifts. Ergo the "thank-you visit," for showing gratitude to someone now across the street, now in another village.
As people became acclimated to less connection to other selves, the thank-you visit became a thank-you card, which became a thank-you e-card, which became a status update. The last vestiges of "personalization" are now vanishing, as holiday e-cards are sent to entire departments. Happy Valentine's Day, Human Resources & Accounting!
So yeah, obvious. But it's already deeper. Virtual interaction only modeled what was already there, in people who had learned, over the decades, to believe even more firmly in the self. If the self is detached, then communicating only by telegraph, or smell-sharing videoconferencing, is the way to go. It's cheaper, better, and loses nothing. There will, eventually, be nothing worthwhile about these hunks of cells, which should be discarded as soon as it becomes possible to sustain "self perception" through inorganic technology.
Computer programs scripting their own endless amusements, on a planet covered by a layer of solar dishes above the armored layer of ten trillion individuals' servers, would be far superior to the Earth we have now. Life, but without having to go to the bathroom; without having to feel blue; without having to be scared or worried or hurt about anything. If that stirring data is all there is to sensation, and there is no greater meaning, then we're on the right track. Elites exterminating the old and bringing in the new.
Facebook would never have been popular if people had not already been conditioned to shadow dance in their own IRL relationships. When "How are you?" became a meaningless equivalent to "Hello," and "conversation" became an opportunity only to share brand identity and coordinate calendars, why should the entire relationship not precede its host individuals by moving wholly online?
Call centers, hold music, technology expos, and waiting rooms could not have existed in a people already not prepped to compromise with them. Millions of young urban singles relying on a dozen pricey bars in any given section of city to meet that special someone could not have existed in cities not already prepped to expect no better. Where else are they going to go? All space is owned, so the space where the owner door-charges you and promises potential mates is the only option--outside of meeting a mate at the factory, or at factory training school, which are the two biggest sources of productive pairings.
FaceTime, even, could not have succeeded until people had learned to devalue their own presence. If being close to someone only matters because you can see and hear them, then of course, videoconferencing is the way to go. Accede to the ooze, give the zombies a foot in the door, and next year, it won't seem so strange. Your grandmother would turn over in her grave if she realized that people have such difficulty writing letters, now. One-liners and hook phrases are the "closeness" that abused technology offers. Computers, and e-mails, could have been used to salvage the errors of the past; to save written communication from the slow death of hallmark cards and telephone calls. Freeing hands from ink stains and wear, speedy, long, meaningful letters could have been sent. Great debates could have been had. Instead, the humans have used the technology as a further separation. Each friend, each contact, is now a colorful blurb.
Singing arm in arm, strolling about undressed, swiving whenever the urge arose, sleeping side to side--outdated to the quick hug, and puritanized to the warm handshake. Sanitized to the power lunch in the noisy restaurant, the phone call and the videoconference.
The things to remember out of all this are:
1) Social networking didn't cause the problems. It was just another way for the problems to express themselves. Shallow bar talk, depersonalized professional culture, and socializing based on brand preference evolved naturally into the little glowing screen versions. Asking people to get off the Google+ does little unless they still remember what it was like to communicate with a person. Not to share cute or interesting anecdotes you read in a newspaper, stock reports, or professional game results, but to communicate.
2) Social networks are not, themselves, evil. They provide an efficient way for elites to store all communications for later sifting and penalizing, and they encourage people to self-celebritize. Everyone's a celebrity on Facebook, where your trip to Nebraska, and all the meals your kids ate there, can be displayed in 2550x1600 resolution. But the people who do these things would express themselves in similar ways absent the computer tools to do so. Secret police will monitor, and bland partyboys boast, if secret police and bland partyboys exist.
3) The five senses are not total. Even when video conferencing has become virtual reality conferencing, and worldwide MMOs have integrated entire populations in an environment that includes sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste; even when bliss to orgasm to mild disapproval to fresh tofu curry has been encapsulated in the brain, an intangible something will be missing. The living experience will not have been duplicated. The misery of living in the shadow world will, in fact, be worse than the growing disconnect of living in the "please continue to hold, we value your call" world now available to subscribers--but with less chance for the prisoners to recognize their own prison. A deep seated feeling of lacking connection will plague the virtual life, even as it forgets that it is virtual; even as children know nothing but it. Trapped by doubts whispered from senses that they're told do not exist, the new prisoners will strive in vain to find a "place" to "move" to for freedom.
The problem was there, long before Hallmark was incorporated. We remain vulnerable to even more intrusive versions of allowing us to express our problems. Blaming each symptom as it arises, in the true American way, reaches neither cause nor cure.
If getting an e-card from the Division Head in Delaware doesn't feel quite as good as a hug from your mother, then you're still able to tell a difference of one kind. Make that perception a fractal model, and use that model as an overlay to illuminate the differences between the virtual world, the five senses, and what other unities you might be currently missing.