The Innovation of Loneliness by Shimi Cohen, after a TED presentation by Sherry Turkle. I wouldn’t normally post this sort of thing. I tend to find motion infographics simplistic and distracting, and as for TED talks, once genuinely interesting, these now often resemble sales pitches (to say nothing of the full-on sleaze of TEDx events) for books that tell you What You Already Suspected: e.g. social networking increases feelings of isolation, loneliness, and therefore are not good for you.

As clichéd and trite as this idea now is, clichés tend by definition to be true and some do deserve sustained repeating and, indeed, ‘sharing’ on ‘social networking’ platforms. So, even though we know better, we can’t help but look at our 250 ‘friends’ on Facebook and feel we should be more ‘engaging’, that a lack of response to the stuff we ‘share’ (I promise I’ll stop with the irony quotes) must mean nobody actually cares about us. We make the mistake of confounding our unreplied (or worse — unreplied but ✓seen*) messages and unliked posts with a qualitative assessment about ourselves — the same mistake many artists make when they mistake themselves for their work.

Facebook, if I may add a few more of my trite thoughts about it, is not your old High School cafeteria, despite often resembling a virtual version of it. If you are, as I hope, someone with a sense of etiquette and democratic values, I believe that instead of feeling rejected and worthless because someone ✓sees your messages and declines to reply, perhaps it makes better sense for you to unfriend that person. (The same goes for cellphone texts, by the way.) Or at least to organize them in a ‘doghouse’ group where they are still ‘friends’ with you but blocked out of your stuff, which is perhaps worse. (I don’t believe this is too harsh. What would be said of someone who blatantly ignores ‘friends’ in face-to-face situations? Or should we consider that, as Facebook is not a virtual playground, elementary social customs and rules of etiquette do not apply?) Same thing goes for people who go and bully you publicly in comments to your posts, something a grown-up never would in real life. Ask yourself: are these people good for you? Should they see your stuff? Should you be looking at photos of all the sushi a non-responder had for lunch?

If one wishes further motivation to take socialization offline, one can also open the doors of paranoia and consider the power companies such as Facebook, Inc. have in mediating people’s interactions. (Can we completely and unarguably dismiss the possibility some FB, Inc. researcher is running cruel psychology experiments on some of its users, subtly changing the content of instant messages, labeling unreceived messages as ✓seen, etc. in order to provoke and study the reactions of the recipients? This may of course seem delusional, but in the light of recent NSA spying revelations we know that if something is technically feasible someone will do it. Think about the crimes of pharmaceutical research in impoverished countries, and how intentionally causing friends to argue because of miscommunication would be child’s play — even though one can guess it would cause a lot more outrage. Are there moratoria against such tampering with communications and against running such experiments in transnational networks? Would it be possible to enforce such a moratorium?)

It takes conscious effort to go on Facebook and not get sucked too deeply into the ‘social’ lie. I try to remind myself it is in essence just a mix between a (rather unreliable) group blog and an address book with some (again, unreliable) instant messaging features. Socializing is what happens outside of Facebook, indeed, outside any mediation. Online platforms should at best handle the introductions, the reacquaintances, and at most, outward-pointing chit-chat. So it’s nice to watch the above video and remind ourselves such a distortion of reality — loneliness, lack of ‘engagement’ with ‘friends’ — is just the smooth running of ‘social networking’ platforms.

Hence my paradoxical sharing — don’t feel obliged to like or favorite this post, though. I’ll be fine.


* When I first saw a ✓seen timestamp in a message window I thought people at FB, Inc. were trying to engineer social behaviour — i.e. forcing avoidant responders to come up with something or look bad. I think they miscalculated to what an extent some people just won’t care about what others think.