Monday, September 29, 2014

Our preoccupation with "sharing" isn't making us selfless

I have long admired Wendy Shalit's writing style and insights into our cultural decline. Her "Return to Modesty" was just re-released for its 15th anniversary. Consequently, her name has resurfaced again in the online writing world, after a few year hiatus.

In any event, I just came across her thoughts in TIME about selfies, social media and our seeming inability to enjoy moments without hurrying to "capture" them for the rest of the world. It's an excellent piece.
The larger issue here is our addiction to externalizing our private experiences to the point where we have nearly lost the ability to simply enjoy moments privately (or be allowed to mourn privately).

Did you hear about the woman who felt compelled to update her Facebook status while driving on a North Carolina highway? “The happy song makes me HAPPY,” she typed, a second before her car crashed into a truck. A Polish couple recently wanted to take some selfies near a cliff, and then—putting a bit of a damper on things—they actually fell off the cliff. It’s easy to distance ourselves from these tragedies and think, That’s crazy! That would never happen to me.

And yet social media is filled with videos of parents scaring their toddlers or filming their tearful reactions when told that Mommy ate all their Halloween candy. I seem to be nearly the only person who doesn’t find these videos funny, nor do I think that the appropriate reaction to a child’s tantrum is to film it and commiserate on Facebook about how hilarious it was. To me, these parents have fallen off a different cliff, albeit an imperceptible one; they’re breaking a private trust in order to feed the public’s appetite.

I can’t prove it, but I believe that the collapse of the public-private distinction has dialed down our capacity for empathy. Real empathy requires a private, intimate space, and, of course, a time when you’re not on Facebook.

Read the rest here.

Interestingly, after reading the op-ed, I found an article about high school students in Nebraska who say they want to be asked out to homecoming in person, not via text. It's not entirely the same thing as Wendy Shalit is expressing, but it is certainly related. A text doesn't create the same memory as a thoughtful or face-to-face encounter.

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