Sunday, April 19, 2009

811. Connection

In case you were wondering, yes, I'm still a little obsessed with Twitter. But more than that, fascinated by what "social media" in general--all the new, high-tech ways we are discovering, as a society, to be connected--says about the basic human need to reach out to one another.

And I did not at all agree with this New York Times article:

Let Them Eat Tweets: Why Twitter is a Trap

To summarize, author Virginia Heffernan quotes cyberbunk writer Bruce Sterling at the tech conference SXSW who pronounced, essentially, that connectivity is poverty. "Poor folks love their cellphones." By "poor" he didn't mean just the economically disadvantaged, but also the emotionally lacking--those who have to reach out to everyone in the universe for "ambient awareness" because their "private gardens" are neither safe nor secure. "The vibe of Twitter seems to have changed: a surprising number of people now seem to tweet about how much they want to be free from encumbrances like Twitter," she writes.

This may be true (and sad: we are masters of the medium and our own time, not the other way around), but to me it doesn't say that the whole concept is wrong--just that its evolution is a work in progress. I was reminded of how exhausted, both physically and socially, I felt after attending five long mornings of services this Pesah (the first and last two, and one in between where I also read Torah). I wasn't the only one, as the rabbi noted on the last day of the holiday. But by making the choice to be a part of something larger, he said, and acknowledging that we want and need more than just our own company, we become stronger. Just because it's hard to get out of bed all those mornings, shlep to shul, and repeat the same prayers over and over again doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. In a religious context, this kind of connection is an expression of God's presence--but that's just one interpretation. Just as diversity was the reason why we evolved and survived as a species, so we also need to reach beyond our private gardens and form communities in order to continue to thrive and grow. And "community" today means not just the folks in one's neighborhood or house of worship, but also those on the other other side of the city, or world, who say, do, or think something we find interesting.

Right now, social media seems to be the expression of that original murky, primordial pool in which one amoeba decided to swim over to another, beginning life as we know it. We haven't yet found the right balance between living in real time and needing to announce electronically to the whole world what we ate for lunch, but we will. The last thing we should do is reject the whole idea before we can work out exactly how to use it.

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