Finding That SongBy Michael Krikorian (from The New York Times dated March 16, 2009)
Back in 1998, I was driving down Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles when I spotted a man lying on his back smack dab in the middle of the street; one leg was splayed onto the westbound lane of Pico, the other onto the eastbound. I got out of my car, and as I approached I saw he was bleeding from his lower left side. I rushed to him, and before I could say anything, he said to me, “How you doin’?”
Behind Facebook's success: It takes a villageBy Anand Giridharadas (from International Herald Tribune of March 26, 2009)
VERLA, India: Twitter and Facebook are, OMG, so last millennium.
Or so it seems as I look out through my window in the forested Indian village where I am living, one of those places that the future has yet to invade.
A row of modest houses faces me. All day long, as I write, their inhabitants talk. And I have discovered through their talk that the age-old sociability of the village --- ambient sociability, one might call it --- harbors a strange likeness to the social-networking culture we think to be so new.
They don't do one-on-one conversation here. They broadcast. If you have something to say, yell. Bring water! Go to school! Why did you tell her that thing? The people do not limit their talk to their own homes. Their scolds and praise and commands are for the village.
Privacy means little. Their doors are scraps of fabric. People come and go; it is hard to say who owns which house. Committing adultery or defaulting on a loan would be social suicide: everyone would know. A bargain has been made: There is more to gain from being in the network than from anonymity.
They stand in a stream of soothingly mindless hubbub. They hear opinions even when they do not ask, receive advice they do not need, get a little love from everyone and a lot from no one. Village sociability is not about sharing feelings. It doesn't dwell on you. It asks for little. It just buzzes.
And what do the Internet's social networks offer if not this village buzz? You build networks wider than your circle of close friends, and immediately you, too, stand in Hubbub Creek.
One friend "has been caring for an indescribably adorable baby bunny," your Facebook news bulletin tells you. Another is "leaving for 10 days of backpacking!" Another's iPhone has survived a "swim." Once they are in your network, you are compelled, as in the village, to know their business. It's strangely nice.
This is not about deep bonding. For that, stick to e-mail, the phone and --- remember it? --- human interaction. Social networks offer only ambient love. They maintain not your 10 key relationships, but your hundred semi-key mini-relationships. They are not about understanding or soul-baring, but about being simply, ambiently present --- about knowing as soon as a relationship has ended, as they do in a village, even if you never learn why.
Villages once blanketed the earth. Then towns congealed, then cities, and the West in particular urbanized intensively, adopting the city's weaker, more anonymous links.
Material affluence grew. But it came at the price of increasing isolation: vast high rises, far-flung and atomized suburbs, long commutes, a withering civic life, families separated by the pursuit of careers, fraying marriages and, above all, what the late novelist David Foster Wallace called "a peculiarly American loneliness: the prospect of dying without even once having loved something more than yourself."
That does not mean villages are ideal. They are home to unpardonable cruelties. They pigeonhole; they stifle. Many of India's villagers hunger for the urban life, boarding trains by the millions each year to get out.
But one senses that the West's social-network devotees, born in Mr. Wallace's lonely culture, are driving the opposite way. The world feels too anonymous, homogeneous, with no tribes or castes to cling to. It is a climbing wall in polished marble, without nooks for our feet.
And to socially network is to make a big world feel small, to belong as in our village pasts, to live in that gentle, loving buzz.
In India's smaller settlements, shame governs. Umred, a heartland town of 50,000, functions on mutually assured destruction. If a woman is seen on a motorcycle with a man, she is toast: the witness will tell. In so doing, the witness effectively denies herself the same activity. People participate in this because it enforces shared norms, which give them identity.
In the West, a certain anonymity once prevailed, then was voluntarily surrendered. People now post drunken photographs of themselves, announce whereabouts, disclose activities that could return to haunt them. There are risks for employment. There are risks for relationships --- "No, I was at a work dinner," you say, before the party photographs are uploaded. There are risks for offending friends when you visit a city without telling them.
But we make the same bargain as villagers: that, in surrendering privacy, we gain community.
In Ludhiana, a northern town, honor culture runs deep. The sexes are carefully segregated; men rarely ask women out. Instead, a man might circle a woman's block on foot. He and his friends might hang out in the quarter. Then, having registered a regular, ambient presence, he might graduate to calling her and meeting her. In India prospective mates generally cannot spring out of the blue, but must come with context, connections, a history.
This may sound medieval to a Western ear. But has social networking not brought Indian-style courtship to the West? If a Westerner met someone at a party 10 years ago, one had to ask for a number or risk losing touch. Today, people can be found the next morning on Facebook and "friended." An ambient presence can slowly be registered, a virtual if not physical circling of the block. Then, as in Ludhiana, one can close in when risk has abated.
And when you friend someone you've just met, you can know, before venturing out on a date, the person's age, religion, politics, education, job history. I thought Indians alone still did such reconnaissance. But now Facebook Casanovas are adopting the village ways, in which "bio-data" are shared first and kisses later.
The West has, in effect, retraced the life path of Ram Jatan Pal.
He began in a teeming Mumbai slum, much like a village, where doors were open, toilets were shared and gossip and opinions flowed swiftly through the gullies.
Then he moved up in the world; he got "development." The government offered him an apartment with his own toilet. Which seemed like a good idea, until Mr. Pal went inside and shut a front door for the first time in his life.
"It's like being caged in a poultry farm," he complained.
Like Western beneficiaries of "development," Mr. Pal felt there was something missing. There used to be friends everywhere, playing cards, eating, drifting among homes. Step outside, and you saw everyone you knew.
They were not your best friends. It was ambient. They were there.
It was enough.
What Mr. Pal misses, perhaps we also miss. We have tired of coming home, shutting the door and living in our own heads. So we soothe ourselves as best we can, with this cool, gushing stream of sweet networked nothings.