The Twittering World
Are social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter substitutes for our spiritual lives? Or do we connect deeper with our own spirituality by being constantly "plugged in"?
– T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Why is it fun to know what other people are doing?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently, as I get ever more used to knowing what the people in my life (both my present life, and my life of decades past) are doing every minute of the day. My friend Israel, who I went to college with and haven’t seen for twenty-some years, is vacationing in northern California with his two adopted sons. My friend Glen, meanwhile, who used to work at Guideposts with me, just got up from his desk at his new place of employ, TV Guide, to go down to the street to buy a bagel.
Knowledge of these events, and countless others like them, comes to me courtesy of Facebook, which I joined recently and which I now, like so many other people, am somewhat addicted to.
My attachment to the site has been greeted with disappointed by a couple of my friends. Especially surprising to them is my willingness not only to join the site, but to contribute to it--talking about what I’m up to, changing my profile picture regularly, making comments about what other people I know are doing, and even taking the site’s quizzes that reveal such things as which cartoon character, or which poet, I’m most like (Donald Duck and Sylvia Plath, if you’re curious).
I think the main reason so many of my friends are surprised that I’m enjoying the site is because Facebook stands for everything I distrust about the internet. Though I use it all the time (and, of course, even write for it), my feeling about the internet has always been that at heart it is a substitute for something else.
A substitute for what, exactly? In a nutshell, for what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once called “the whole so-called spirit-world.”
Here (courtesy of the internet, which of course fished the quote up for me instantly) is the entire passage of Rilke’s in question:
"That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called ‘visions,’ the whole so-called ‘spirit-world,’ death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.”