“The only reason privacy ever existed is because Facebook didn’t”


The title quote comes from a British postgraduate student, and for the past couple of years I’ve found it useful to get students talking and thinking about how social media influence/shape/challenge our existing norms. Of course there are some who believe that social media mostly destroy what should be our norms, and the issue of privacy gets much of the attention.

Like everyone else who is glued to a screen for the better part of most days, I have also been reading about Facebook Home, the new (not-actually-a-)phone thingy in the works. The New Yorker describes it as cycling ‘through a collection of full-screen photos pulled from Facebook, which it pairs with status updates from friends, whooshing from one update to another’, which sounds like a perfectly horrible thing to have happening on my phone. No thanks.

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Apocalyptic Daze (on a world of moral panics)

By Pascal Bruckner in the City Journal:

‘Around the turn of the twenty-first century, a paradigm shift in our thinking took place: we decided that the era of revolutions was over and that the era of catastrophes had begun. The former had involved expectation, the hope that the human race would proceed toward some goal. But once the end of history was announced, the Communist enemy vanquished, and, more recently, the War on Terror all but won, the idea of progress lay moribund. What replaced the world’s human future was the future of the world as a material entity. The long list of emblematic victims—Jews, blacks, slaves, proletarians, colonized peoples—was likewise replaced, little by little, with the Planet, the new paragon of all misery. No longer were we summoned to participate in a particular community; rather, we were invited to identify ourselves with the spatial vessel that carried us, groaning.

The fear that these intellectuals spread is like a gluttonous enzyme that swallows up an anxiety, feeds on it, and then leaves it behind for new ones. When the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down after the enormous earthquake in Japan in March 2011, it only confirmed a feeling of anxiety that was already there, looking for some content. In six months, some new concern will grip us: a pandemic, bird flu, the food supply, melting ice caps, cell-phone radiation.

The language of fear does not include the word “maybe.” It tells us, rather, that the horror is inevitable. Resistant to all doubt, it is satisfied to mark the stages of degradation. This is another paradox of fear: it is ultimately reassuring. At least we know where we are heading—toward the worst.’

All of which is a prescient reminder to re-read Michael Crichton’s excellent “Environmentalism as Religion“.


Death by Treacle

From The American Scholar, on a culture built on rewarding the gradual refrain from responsibility:

‘As we move from a culture that celebrated risk to a more cautious culture of “risk factors” and “at-risk” people, victims of random, tragic fate become more monstrous to our sense of fairness. This and the corporate-class bogeyman of sentiment-drunk jurors who grant extravagant personal injury awards must explain the growth of product warning labels such as “Shin Pads Cannot Protect Any Part of the Body They Do Not Cover,” “Wheelbarrow Is Not Intended for Highway Use,” “Do Not Use Hair Dryer While Sleeping,” or “Eating Rocks May Lead to Broken Teeth.”’

And the “lite intimacy” of social media: 

‘Lite intimacies in social media create a background din of disclosure, confession, closeness, and familiarity. It isn’t inherently fake or objectionable, and if it were only a semantic problem, I wouldn’t be concerned. But there is danger, it seems to me, of losing our coordinates. There’s a danger that the lite intimacies of the sentimental culture might deplete the resources of our true intimacies. If the intimate building blocks that once belonged mostly to a domestic partner or family—the sharing of a million little details about our moods, and what we ate for breakfast, and our daily rituals and secret gripes—now belong to everyone on Facebook in the world of lite intimacy, then how much deeper do we need to go to find the everyday material out of which to recognize, solidify, and build that deeper intimacy? Do we have to scream emotions louder to be heard over the cacophony of the lite intimacy? A mild hypothesis for the new social life of our age: the easier it is to be close but not intimate in public, the easier it is to be close but not intimate in private.’