In a recent article in The Chronicle Review William Deresiewicz made a case for the necessities of solitude. The argument goes: Humans to be sure are social animals, but sometimes we need solitude because “no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.” Last night I attended a talk by Adrian Cheok from the Mixed Reality Lab at the National University of Singapore. One central theme of his talk was the increasing ways technology mediates our experience and he showed examples of his work that included applications that replicate human touch over the web. When I asked him about our need for solitude he compared the human need and predisposition for interaction to food. We need it but sometimes we overindulge in things like cake. (He is a thin guy and I have had a slice or two too many of cake in my day).
I have been thinking about our use of technology and the need for interaction of late because of encounters on Facebook. Having joined Facebook because an ex student prompted me to do so I am now friends with 70 people. Some are folks I see regularly and some I haven’t seen for 20 years. The point though is not so much who is on Facebook and the exact nature of friendship, but the use to which we are putting Facebook.
Nostalgia seems to be one of the ways people (myself included) use Facebook. This use extends beyond merely reacquainting onself with old friends. Much of what goes one is sorting through memories for meaning and value. Nostalgia has had a bad press over the last 50 years or so oft being seen as self indulgent conservative backward looking behavior. In her 2001 book The Future of Nostalgia Svetlana Boym reminded us that nostalgia has a reflective quality that can remind us of say youthful aspitations that may in turn give us new inspiration. A good deal of what goes on in Facebook among the slightly older crowd I run with there is this later sort of nostalgia. What seems to drive this is the ability to share many aids to memory, some personal and some shared social memories, such as photos and videos.
New media is used for many things. So far so good with this use of nostalgia as inspiration. I fear that someone though will find yet another way to package our own nostalgia and sell it back to us. Or more correctly a more concise way of targeting us as consumers of such through traiting the communities we mix in on Facebook and the sort of things that are posted there. And of course Facebook is now moving to optimise profit from just that sort of information we have given them.