Found myself on Colin Marshall’s site The War on Mediocrity. Now, I don’t know anything about this guy, or even how I ended up on his site, but his five-part series The Plight of the Social Maladroit is very compelling reading. Marshall discusses how communication today, particulary via the internet, including so-called socail networking sites, has become “autistic”, or non-collaborative. Tweeting, Facebook, blogging, he argues, are intrinsically one-way forms of communication and as such, we may be losing the ability to interact socially in a give-and-take manner, whether face-to-face or online.
His series is in five parts, and I’ve excerpted a small bit from each part to give you a sense of where he’s going. The series is definitely worth a read and some meditation, whether or not we have an online presence or not. Parents, in particular, might learn something about their teens modes of communicating.
I strongly encourage you to go to his site and read through the five parts. If you start at Part 1, you can easily click through to the next. Below, I’ve included a sentence or two from each part to stimulate your interest, but really. Go there and read it.
Me? I’m determined to leave more comments, reply to more Tweets, and work on my collaborative, interactive skills online. And in the real world.
It’s no wonder that scattershot autistic declaration has become the internet’s dominant form of speech. You could hardly design a better enabling device: allow people to lob as many messages as they can type into the void, and have that void sometimes reward them with just enough of a response to imply the alluring promise of much, much more.
If, like those “talented” kids who grow up lazily shielding the dubious glory of their intelligence, you buy your own hype, you might come to believe some weird things. If other people bow before the awesome power of your brain, for instance, then what could you ever stand to gain from interacting with other people? They’re worshiping you, after all. You’re a god to them! The assumption that you only need your projects, your own brain and maybe the friendship of the 99th percentile most like-minded and demographically similar people in your region….
This all comes back to Dale Carnegie, doesn’t it? I somehow happened on his immortal How to Win Friends and Influence People in high school and, despite the book’s dopey aspirational title, found that its ideas made so much sense I could hardly think directly about them.
Just as the near-epic challenge of developing a Dale Carnegie-style “genuine interest in other people” often goes unacknowledged, it seems to me that people tend to be wrong in the same way about openmindedness — or empty-mindedness, ready-mindedness, or beginner’s-mindedness, or shoshin-mindedness….
I would submit that, like anything worthwhile, cultivating this sort of receptive mind demands actual sacrifices. I’ve mourned living people due to to their unwillingness or inability to understand this. If I could only frame life in one way, I’d frame it as the constant pushing outward of one’s own comfort zone, with all the attendant risks. If you’re not doing that, you are, in some sense, dead. With constrained interests, you’re similarly dead. Without the willingness to separate your interests from your identity, from your various prejudices and from any other of the aforementioned lingering brain garbage? Dead.
But from what I can tell — in the parlance of the previous installment — nobody is quite so fucked as he who lacks an interest in social connection, even if he’s awesome at work which itself has ostensibly nothing to do with the social world.
The deep trouble begins when you start seeing your potential audience, collaborators or audience-collaborators as the Other. This is the mindset of so many hapless teenage dudes on the hunt for a girlfriend: they forget that they’re making a connection and not, say, playing solitaire. Adam Cadre made an astute point about this in regard to the generation of guys raised on computer games: “Want the treasure behind the door? Find the key. Want to get past the troll? Give him the fish. Want the monkey to follow you around? Give him some bananas. Want the girl to love you? Give her the right object, and just like the door, surely she will open up and yield her treasure.”