Sunday, August 26, 2007

Connection vs. Isolation: The Internet Paradox

It must be pretty obvious by now that I love the Internet. Love, LOVE, LOVE the Internet. (Thank you Al Gore!) It's often easier to get a hold of me via e-mail, I get more of my news online than by watching TV newscasts (thus escaping Anchorbots and their passion for using the phrase "pit maneuver") and even avoid crowds in the stores by doing my shopping online.

Forget encyclopedias, we've got Wikipedia! Who needs a dictionary or thesaurus taking up space on your bookshelf when you can get it on the web? Phone books? Outdated. Maps and atlases? Antiquated. We've got it all right here, baby. Shopping, entertainment, information. Soon there won't be any reason to ever leave home.

Of course, it would get sort of lonely if we never left the house. But the Internet even has a solution for that. Beyond e-mail and instant messaging (the former I love, the latter I hate), the web has become a social networking tool. In the infancy of the world wide web, there was a website called "Six Degrees"--operating under the famous principle that everyone on the planet is connected to any one person by no more than six steps or people. SixDegrees begat Friendster which begat MySpace and Facebook and LinkedIn--and the cultural phenomenon of "social networking" blossomed.

But the ease of making social connections hasn't come without a price. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the stress of maintaining one's social network can be exhausting. Citing the experience of one Facebook user who had to declare a moratorium on accepting new "friend" requests, writer Monica Hesse wonders what happens when the social networks collapse under their own excess:

And then . . . chaos? Isolation? Abject misery? When we reach that point where a utility that is supposed to bring us closer to our friends actually makes us hate our friends -- and the death grip that managing them has on our time -- where will we go from there?
Social networks bring us closer to our friends? What friends is she talking about? I remember setting up my profile on Myspace. Within hours I was receiving friend requests not just from assorted musicians, bands and comics, but a 19 year-old Goth girl in Chicago, an overweight suburban Mid-Western dude, a would-be Lothario in Vienna. Why were these people requesting to be my "friend"? I didn't know them. Had never met them. Would probably never, ever meet them.

I looked at the Goth girl's profile for clues. She had well over a thousand friends. I could count mine on one hand. Then it hit me. It's not about networking or making connections--it's a new hobby called "people collecting." While this strategy works well for bands or musicians trying to build a following and as a way to inform their fans of upcoming tours or CD releases, it makes no sense for the rest of us. Can you REALLY be friends with 1,000 people? Or even 100 for that matter?

Friendship, in my opinion, requires that the parties involved have some interests or history or values in common. It requires a common and mutual interest in each other's lives and well-being. It requires some time invested to touch base--either by regular or semi-regular e-mails and/or phone calls and on occasion whenever possible, in person meetings. Friendship happens "IRL," it's not virtual. You can certainly make a connection via an online source--whether it be a message board, online group meeting facilitator like or social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

When Hesse asked Ogheneruemu "O.G." Oyiborhoro, a George Washington University junior with 3,456 friends on Facebook who he would turn to if he needed help finding a new apartment--not one of his 3,456 "friends" would qualify.
""The furthest I'd go with Facebook would be to ask someone to borrow a textbook. I'd want to actually trust the person" for a bigger request.

[Says Hesse:] To use a social networking site for actual social networking would be an impertinence. An imposition."
So if a social networking website isn't good, social networking--what the hell is it good for? Provided that one limits their friends, contacts and connections to:

1. People they actually know
2. People they would want to know or
3. People they have a good chance of actually meeting (i.e.; geographic proximity)

then Facebook or MySpace might be useful ways to maintain contact. You can upload recent pictures, blog about your new job or send out a bulletin to announce the sale of your latest screenplay (wishing...). Or you can collect people. 'Cuz we all know that whoever dies with the most Facebook "friends" is the most beloved person on the planet--NOT!


  1. Hi, Interesting pages/ blog. but why the US-centred film listings - do you not enjoy world cinema (French or British film for example)? Or perhaps these are a bit too grim and dark

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  3. Mark,

    I do live in the U.S., so yes--I am prone to seeing more U.S. films.

    Slumdog Millionaire and RocknRolla made my top ten for last year--so I do see non-U.S. films.

    I've also reviewed Control, Son of Rambow, City of Men and The Orphanage and on DVD, Rashomon, Croupier, The Devil's Backbone, The Blossoming of Maximos Oliveros, Seven Samurai, Volver, Dirty Pretty Things, This is England and Resprise among others.

    I do tend to shy away from subtitles for the most part. But I've found when a film is really great I get totally absorbed in it even if there are subtitles.

    Do you have any world cinema recommendations for me?