In an interesting article titled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”, author Stephen Marche makes his point by comparing the Internet to suburbs:
In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.
Marche is discussing the disillusion associated with the Internet: a good number of people thought it would provide unprecedented access to information, more global connections, and stronger democracies and civil societies. Instead, Marche argues that it is like the suburbs. They both provide the illusion of a “good life” but with little depth behind the happy facade of McMansions or Facebook. Marche should finish the metaphor: perhaps we need an online way of connecting that is more equivalent to an urban neighborhood, perhaps the kind idealized by Jane Jacobs.
I wonder if Marche would be willing to work with the idea that the Internet may not be the best or all it could be but it is a necessary adaptation for the modern world. This is similar to an argument I’ve made before about suburbs: I think many Americans know that they aren’t all they are said (or sold) to be (see a recent survey where a majority of Americans say they would move right now if they could). However, the suburbs beat the alternatives of small town life (too confining, not enough independence, not enough amenities or jobs) or city living (perceived as being too dangerous and anonymous). Similarly, it would be truly hard to live these days without using the Internet or even not be a member of Facebook as these are becoming (and have become for many) the basic ways of finding out information, buying goods, and yes, “connecting” with others.