“And more alone than ever,” says Lisa Simpson in tonight’s episode of The Simpsons, “The D’oh-cial Network.” Tonight’s episode follows the rise and fall of Lisa’s web startup SpringFace in a -somewhat belated – take on David Fincher’s The Social Netwark which in turn followed the rise and continued ascension of social-network juggernaut Facebook. In the “The D-oh-cial Network” Lisa is on trial for creating SpringFace, a social network so engaging it has turned the denizens of Springfield into automatons who can only stare at their phones, tablets and computers to follow their friends and neighbors lives.
Yes, “The D’oh-cial Network” warns viewers of the dangers of using replacing our real relationships with their cyber counterparts. Lisa has 1,000 friends on SpringFace but she still cannot convince anyone to play with her on the playground.
Although the episode made me chuckle more than a few times, I’m still quite bothered by the underlying premise of “The D’oh-cial Netowrk:” that online social networks do more to alienate people from one another than bring they do to bring them together. I don’t agree with this on it’s face, but I am also bothered that the episode did not do more to reflect the film that it mirrored. The Social Network portrayed Mark Zuckerberg as someone who created a social network to bring people together but ended up alone because of the decisions he made to ensure his company’s success at any cost. While the social networks are the cause of alienation in both stories, The Social Network strikes me as being a more honest telling of the way that social networking effects our lives. Zuckerberg could very well have uttered the “1,000 friends and still alone” line at the end of The Social Network with the understanding that the loneliness is his due to his own actions, not the encroaching ubiquity of Facebook.
I am not of the opinion that unfettered technological progress is a desirable direction for us as a species – nor do I think that all technology is bad and should be met with suspicion. I suspect that most people fall into some sort of middle ground in this regard yet it strikes me as odd that so many people point to Facebook, social media, and technology-facilitated communication as signs of societal decay, as The Simpsons does in ”The D-oh-cial Network.”
My instinct is to say that all this talk about the superficiality of online communication is ridiculous – and maybe it is. I do not think that Facebook would be as successful today as it is if it were not fulfilling some fundamental need. Facebook, twitter, texting et al seem to perform the very necessary function of superficial communication. By talking about the small things in our life online we can more easily give context to friends and family about the more complicated issues we grapple with daily when we have the time to have an actual conversation. Those conversations, too, can happen in a digital space, but it seems more likely to happen face to face. What if, instead of becoming zombies, we’re actually becoming more efficient communicators?
While I do not have the answer, I can say with certainty that blaming social media and digital communication is a losing battle in every way. While only the staunchest Luddites refuse all forms of social interaction through technology, I am more interested in those who embrace the advances in practice but denounce the very same as signpost of social degradation.
My examination of this issue is far from thorough – indeed, it’s a shallow take on a very complicated issue. In the following months I hope to look at this particular phenomenon in more detail as well as other issues involving technology, communication and language. I’m most interested in how those three things shape society as the shaping seems to happen faster so fast that we barely have time to register any change at all. I hope this blog can be a place to reflect on those changes and talk about their implications – please, join the discussion!