Friday, November 10, 2017

Another Hundred Years of Solitude?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude. However the subject of his novel is slowly being killed by social networking and the Internet of Everything. Solitude may meet an untimely death before another century passes. Connectivity is a revelation, but it has a nether side. Imagine a kind of confinement in which you can never escape the crowd, which follows you like an imminent lynch mob. Facebook and Twitter are great when you want to rally people to a cause, but it can become a nightmare for those falsely accused. "Only connect!" E.M. Forster implores in Howard's End (1910). However, in an essay entitled "The False Prophecy of Hyperconnection" (Foreign Affairs, September/October 2017) Niall Ferguson points out that "A common error of much popular writing about social networks is to draw a distinction between networks and hierarchies" and goes on offer the example of Stalinist Russia where the poet Anna Akhmatova was famously persecuted "for one illicit night of conversation with the philosopher Isaiah Berlin." One of Alfred Hitchcock’s less known films, The Wrong Man, starred Henry Fonda playing the part of Manny Balestrero a musician who’s been mistaken for a holdup man. It’s a real story, but imagine it occurring in the age of social networking. Would his reputation have been spared amidst the tsunami of false evidence that initially landed him in jail? Social networking is beyond Big Brother. It’s more like an episode of The Twilight Zone in which individuality and autonomy are expeditiously compromised. There are young people growing up today who possibly don’t know what it’s like to be either alone or silent. The chatter is constant and it’s no wonder that its so hard to find restaurants which are free of loud music, the old-fashioned quiet oasis where people used to retreat for a talk. In an epigenetic phenomenon the brain has become so used to noise that it's not capable of functioning properly or taking in information without the music(ak) produced by an accompanying score. If you're ever off-line and struck with a queasy feeling, something like emptiness, estrangement or boredom, that feels like it might be an impending depression, don't fret. You might simply be experiencing the increasingly unfamiliar sensation of your own solitude.

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