"I therefore believe that the kind of oppression that threatens democratic peoples is unlike any the world has seen before. Our contemporaries will find no image of it in their memories. I search in vain for an expression that exactly reproduces my idea of it and captures it fully. The old words "despotism" and "tyranny" will not do. The thing is new, hence I must try to define it, since I cannot give it a name.I am trying to imagine what new features despotism might have in today's world: I see an innumerable host of men, all alike and equal, endlessly hastening after petty and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others. For him, his children and personal friends comprise the entire human race. As for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he lives alongside them but does not see them. He touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in himself and for himself, and if he still has a family, he no longer has a country.
Over these men stands an immense tutelary power, which assumes sole responsibility for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate. It is absolute, meticulous, regular, provident, and mild.
It would resemble paternal authority if only its purpose were the same, namely, to prepare men for manhood. But on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them in childhood irrevocably.
It likes citizens to rejoice, provided they think only of rejoicing. It works willingly for their happiness. It provides for their security, foresees and takes care of their needs, facilitates their pleasures, manages their most important affairs, directs their industry, regulates their successions, and divides their inheritances. Why not relieve them entirely of the trouble of thinking and the difficulty of living? Every day it thus makes man's use of his free will rarer and more futile. It circumscribes the action of the will more narrowly, and little by little robs each citizen of the use of his own faculties."
--de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (written in 1835), p. 818 (h/t "jryan" for discovering this little gem)
Peter says everybody and their dog has written on Twitter lately--which makes it dead and lame, as sure as the SuperPoke followed the status update--I guess I will too. Not that I have anything of substance to add. But of course, that's the point, isn't it?
Ten minutes on any social networking site and it's abundantly clear why such places appeal to teenagers, who claim to be seeking a sense of self but who really are only seeking the approval of other teens. Twitter is this phenomenon stripped to its essence. Kilroy was here.
de Tocqueville's quote up there is almost eerie. So much of it rings loud and clear in America of 2009. I find myself wondering how much of the Internet taint has tarnished me, as any reasonable person would suggest I spend entirely too much time online, and my disdain for Twitter is only exceeded by my addiction to Facebook...
I hooked this blog to sitemeter some while back. For all my protestations that I write for me and me alone, I guess I'm just as interested in the next schmuck in seeing my words read. Anyway, every now and again I review the data sitemeter has gathered. Occasionally the data startles me.
My most popular post, by several orders of magnitude, is here: "The Internet: Boon or Bane?" Interestingly, nearly every person who accesses this particular entry hails from Asia or the Indian subcontinent. The logic behind this escapes me.
Anyway, I stand behind everything I wrote there: the Internet is both a boon and a bane to humanity. Like any tool, it's all in how it is used.
That said, I find it ironic that an invention meant to bring the world together has resulted in the virtual death of interpersonal communication under the guise of constant communication, not to mention total isolation in the guise of total connectivity.
Twitter is merely the latest incarnation of an egomaniacal impulse that's been with humanity since we lived in caves. Look at me, look what I did.
Perhaps I'll come to redefine my terms, if "total connectivity" actually does, somedays, result in people truly caring about strangers who live on the other side of the world. But I doubt it. Right now, all I see is "each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others."