First, there are entirely too many Toms on this site. I shall forthwith refer to fellow CV blogger Tom Hoopes as simply “Hoopes.” And if we ever have a meeting of the Toms I’ll buy the first round—these are good guys.
But I have to push back a little, or perhaps simply give a different emphasis, in response to an item he recently wrote at National Review Online and linked to from here.
In his post “The Weinerization of America” Hoopes offers commentary on four societal or cultural conditions which formed Weiner into the perverted cad he has become. I don’t disagree with any of them entirely, but I believe he did not address them adequately, and that which is lacking hurts the larger point I think he was trying to make.
His first point:
1. He is a product of what Neil Postman called the “now this” society. We watch the news of destruction in Joplin, Mo., and then a commercial for Tide, followed by a commercial for a slick horror film, followed by a story about a celebrity divorce. Some of it is real, some of it isn’t. All of it is high-quality and entertaining. All of it is treated in a fleeting way.
Thus, we begin to live our own lives as a series of disjointed fleeting events that we judge for their entertainment value … and create a society that makes it possible for a New York representative to tweet a picture of his underwear to a 22-year-old Seattle coed while watching a hockey game being played in Canada.
Yes, but the true horror would be when, upon the revelation that said Congressman conducted himself in said reprehensible manner, it did not register as reprehensible. The day such a revelation does not have staying power in the (entertaining) news cycle and there were not wide-spread calls for resignation, that day would signal a real societal problem.
The situation Hoopes describes certainly makes healthy relationships difficult, since relationship requires time spent focused on another for whom one cares, rather than fleeting stimulating experiences of things one does not truly value, but with the march of technology we cannot completely undo this situation. What we have to do is learn to live healthily in the midst of it, and help others to do likewise.
I don’t think Hoopes would disagree with this, I just wish he had made that point in his post.
His second point:
2. He is a product of the age of the digitized body. Marketing yourself isn’t just for celebrities anymore. Now, we all market ourselves, choosing just the right Facebook profile picture and photo albums to tell the story we want to about our lives. We start to divorce our “self” from our actual body. This phenomenon reaches its extremes in avatars and sexting: The digital me becomes the exciting me.
This phenomenon also becomes manifest in the clothes we wear and the words we choose to use with this group of friends but not with that group of friends, let alone our boss, or a client, or our mother (or political campaign ads, to keep it topical). In other words, ’twas ever thus.
Now, there is no question that social media—or take it back to blogging and online role playing video games, which well predate MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and the like—enables those who seek an alternate “exciting me” to have a virtual persona that is completely divorced from reality, whereas clothes and patterns of speech are still anchored to the personal, physical “me.”
But as with the first point, the question is not, “can this technology be misused?” The answer is the same as for any technology: yes, of course. Technology is neutral: the acting person is the key. Even low technology can be misused: a hammer can pound nails or skulls, and it doesn’t matter to the hammer which it is. The question is both can people learn to restrain their use of the technology, and can it be used for great good? And again, the answer is yes.
It is not necessary, and, frankly, not preferred or proper for a person’s online persona to exactly match their real self, with all of our idiosyncrasies and rough patches and mood swings and the like. That sort of thing ought only to be shared with family and the friends and trusted advisors who know you and care about you. But, as with above, this was true before the digital revolution, if on a lesser scale.
But moving beyond the discussion of how authentic our avatar is with regard to our real self, the ability to connect and keep in touch with so many people has revolutionized relationships. Yes, we can send lewd photos to underage coeds, or pretend we’re a handsome young lad with lots of adventures when we’re actually a middle aged fat guy who rarely leaves his computer. But look at what else this technology has made possible: shut-ins no longer have to wait and hope someone comes by in order to be in touch. Grandparents who live states away from grandkids don’t have to wait for the rare phone call or letter or even more rare visit. Large families can stay close though they’re spread to the four winds. Parents can keep tabs on a larger aspect of their kids’ interactions with friends. And more.
We are still best suited to have only a few really good friends, and those ought to be people whom we can visit with or at least speak with on the phone regularly, but through this technology we can maintain contact and keep in touch with family and friends a world away, with the click of a mouse. We can share pictures, thoughts, words of encouragement, funny or interesting happenings, and, don’t forget, the Good News of Christ.
Yes, social media enables caddishness and perversion to metastasize into uglier versions of narcissism and enables perverted cads to spread their filth further and wider. But the same holds for virtue and goodness. The technology is neutral: the content put in by acting persons is key.