Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Jerry Lanson: Our Waste Howling 'Cyberness'; My Response to His Article

Jerry Lanson wrote this piece in the Christian Science Monitor:

Our Waste Howling 'Cyberness'

and then republished it at his weblog:

Musing on America 2005

He was thinking along the lines I had been the past couple of weeks and so i wrote a long response at his weblog (reproduced below):

As a blogger for over a year--one used for personal stuff and others for teaching and activism--I agree with you on the Internet's inability to build the sort of community your refer to in your article (which I first read at the Christian Science Monitor, not your blog).

I too am nostalgic for my working class neighborhood in Clairemont, a neighborhood in San Diego, California. The neighborhood was tight and people often gathered imromptu on lawns and corner walls to chat, have beers and eat. Even now when I visit the same place over a quarter-century later I wonder did I imagine it, was it but a dream (me who scoffed at the alarmist thesis of Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone")

My current neighbors in suburban Lexington, KY will barely acknowledge each other and often outright ignore anyone outside their monadic existence (unless it is to curse someone who has offended their sensibility or gets in their way while they are driving their monstrous hummers). At a previous residence in a trendy neighborhood near the university campus, after having our house broken into, I canvassed the neighborhood introducing myself to the strangers that lived near me. People seemed very uncomfortable with my desire to become known, and to know them, so that we could protect ourselves against burglars (there were a dozen B & E's in a week's time in this neighborhood--which no one had pieced together until I went around talking to people).

My parents recently visited our new residence where we had recently moved because we were tired of people trying to break into our last residence (twice in two years and many other attempts). They commented on the beautiful patios in the neighborhood, a corporate owned and operated apartment complex. Me and my wife take full advantage of the patio during warm days, but we never see anyone else using them except for a quick in-and-out barbecue. My parents remarked on the quietness of our neighborhood, how no one used the patios, and how there was no "life" in the neighborhood. The price of "protection"? Its not a gated residence, people wander through all the time. I joke with my wife that we are living in the middle of an FBI witness protection zone because I have actually had people scurry away from me as I try to say hello and introduce myself.

Of course my professional life in academia is also hyper-competitive and fragmented. Barriers between me and my students. I'm an adjunct while I work on my dissertation and thus there are professional barriers between me and most of the tenured professors. I sought to escape the corporate world and have plopped down in the middle of it--complete with an even more alienating and distant administrative beaucracy.

Thus, I find myself writing and reaching out on my many blogs. Shouting into the wilderness so to speak. Writing for electronic journals. Looking forward to the next conference. Desperately seeking others who like to dialogue, think, read and write. While the blogs do not build the communities that you and I lament, they are useful in building counterpublics for those of us who seek alternative information and unlikely alliances (I have made friends and I have met them in the real world). We write and we share information and we discuss the world and we bring-to-light issues/groups/politics that are ignored by the mainstream media/society.

Thanks for your article,

Thivai... shouting into the abyss


Susannity said...

I have often pondered why this is. I think it is often put upon technology, like Jerry says somewhat in his posting, and while I feel this is true, I think for a different reason. I think when people were more centralized in an area and unable to communicate to a larger audience than just their neighbors, we were "forced" to compromise and "get along". Now that the Internet has opened up the number of people that one can be engaged with, we are able to find others who may have similar interests or viewpoints, etc than those we may neighbor with. As a result, it may be tempting to go outside the local community directly to those that we really enjoy. However, then I wonder why people seem to almost avoid one another in their neighborhoods, like you allude to. Is it the effort? Is it fear of non-acceptance because we've become so accustomed to being more readily accepted or easily and uncomfortably ignored thru the anonymity of the Internet? Not sure. I hear you guppy Thivai and return your shout. =)

Michael said...


I think your raise some interesting questions concerning the role of technology in our estrangement from others. No doubt it is the fragmentation and distanciation of technological interaction (driving in our cars, communicating through technology, passively watching, etc...) that makes it difficult for more and more people to carry out sustained interpersonal interactions (especially spontaneous and unscripted). Just as disturbing are some people who I know who master a sense of this ability for spontaneity and interaction, but master it through a sense of their "starring role" in a dramatic production--as if they are in their own little "truman show." They seem to adopt a hip ironicness uniquely suited to keeping them distanced even while interacting (not that this is particularly unique to our time?)

Thanks for the comments--always good to know someone else can see outside the fishbowl...

Susannity said...

I would expect you would especially find truman show candidates in academia. do you? I am surprised at how judgmental most folks I encounter are, even when they initially seem to not be, so maybe we're all PCed and petrified to share our true selves. When it happens, it is wonderful, but I also find that I hear others discuss those that share intimate, and possibly, controversial beliefs so maybe one is justified to be paranoid and isolated.