Bret: Does my column really post on Facebook? Didn’t know that.
This probably sounds horribly misanthropic, but when Facebook came around I feared it would be a handy way of connecting with people … to whom I didn’t particularly want to be connected. So-and-so from graduate school? Maybe we fell out of touch for a reason. Second cousin, twice removed in Melbourne? Hope they’re having a nice life. It’s hard enough to be a good friend to people in our real lives to waste time on virtual friendships in digital spaces.
Now I’ve been reading a multipart investigation in The Wall Street Journal on the perils of the platform, which include less sleep, worse parenting, the abandonment of creative hobbies and so on. Facebook’s own researchers estimate that 1 in 8 people on the platform suffer from some of these symptoms, which amounts to 360 million people worldwide. As someone pointed out, the word “user” applies to people on social media just as much as it does to people on meth.
I guess the question is whether the government should regulate it, and, if so, how?
Gail: This takes me back to early America, when most people lived in small towns or on farms and had very little input from the outside world.
They were very tight-knit, protective, familial — and very inclined to stick to their clan and isolate, discriminate, persecute and yes, enslave, the folks who weren’t part of the group. You had a lot of good qualities of togetherness and helping the team, but a lot of clannishness and injustice to nonmembers.
Bret: Almost sounds like an academic department at a placid New England college. Sorry, go on …
Gail: The Postal Service brought newspapers and letters and changed all that. And of course there were also unfortunate effects — a lot of mobilizing to fight against the newly discovered outside world.
I think the digital revolution is maybe as important — people are making new friends around the globe, discovering tons and tons of new information, but also ganging up on folks they don’t like. Discriminating not only against minority groups but also the less popular members of their own.
Bret: The moral of the story is that there’s no substitute for in-person relationships, whether it’s between colleagues, acquaintances, friends, family members or even two columnists who agree about 40 percent of the time. Which reminds me that there’s this Cabernet that we still need to share, so that we can mourn — or celebrate — last week’s news.