The online networking sites seem to be past it. Old news. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, it's too, too exhausting to maintain an active social life online. "Social networking fatigue", they call it.
I'll admit I've been following the flap over MySpace and FaceBook and all the other online hot spots. I actually joined one of the "class reunion" sites, after my high school class had a reunion; but I've never found any real information there (why would you put real information up on a site like that?), and no one ever really tries to contact me. (My email address is there, not much else.)
The networking sites do remind me of something, though. They remind me of The Naked Sun, a novel Isaac Asimov wrote in 1957, when Tim Berners-Lee was 2 years old, computers took up entire rooms and had 64K of memory, and the World Wide Web wasn't even a hallucination. Except that the Inimitable Isaac hallucinated, in The Naked Sun, the planet Solaria, where people live one to a dwelling, miles apart, and never come together in person at all; where they communicate with each other by projecting images of themselves, through which they speak. Electronic communication in place of human interaction.
It isn't possible today to approach the astounding isolation of the Solarians; for one thing, there were only twenty thousand of them on the whole planet, a number which seems as absurd to us now as it did to Asimov's detective Elijah Baley, who lived on an Earth that was a massive rabbit warren of crowded multi-level cities, with no open space left - Baley is an agoraphobe. But it's possible for, say, an addicted gamer living alone to go for days without leaving the terminal except to get food, sleep, or relieve himself; never to see another human face or have a direct conversation. And in the cases where we approach this, we approach the Solarians - they were afraid of germs, of contagion, and so they stayed apart and only spoke with each other through electronic media.
It's dangerous for us to do this. We're social beings; we need other humans. We need to talk, sing, dance, eat with each other, even if none of it has any deep significance. The trouble with the networking sites is that they foster the illusion that you don't actually need to meet people in order to be their friends; and that is a contradiction in terms. Unless you actually meet someone, you will never know if they are honestly describing themselves, or merely sustaining a brilliant, coherent lie. As the cartoon says, "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog."
It isn't, by the way, necessary to have a purely electronic connection in order to lie to someone; I've read cases of extended deceptions done entirely by letter in the 18th century, when travel was very difficult. It's just easier on a terminal.
Leaving apart the issue of honesty and dishonesty, we need direct contact with each other because that is the kind of animals we are. We need to hear each other's voices, touch each other's hands. We need to get out in the sun, feel the wind, walk in the rain. If we isolate ourselves and never go outside, we harm ourselves; and we harm each other because we forget how to deal with each other. Let us try to be more together, to be in the real world, and not place a flat-screen terminal between us and reality.
And for those of you who comment on my blog, please don't take this to mean that I think you're lying to me about yourselves; in fact, I don't. I'm just aware that I'm accepting your word, the evidence of things not seen; as you accept my word about me.