15.36, Monday 28 Feb 2011

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I have a hunch that television is really bad for us. When we can speak about social psychology with the same degree of accuracy as we can liver function, we'll find that TV has been poisoning the social body. Future generations will look back and say, What?? You used to train your children into believing the environment and other people were non-responsive to their moods and expressions? Are you insane?

Facebook is better. At least it's not passive. Although I'd like to test this. Let's find two remote Canadian towns, cut off physically from the rest of the world by winter. One we'll accidentally-on-purpose break television. The other we'll accidentally-on-purpose break the web. Then: observe.

There's something dangerous, still, I'm sure, with Facebook. I don't know what it does to a person to have social interaction without proximity of bodies. It's weird to do talking without smelling. I can feel my Jacobson's organ shrivelling up like a walnut.

Facebook is a technology of disembedding: social relations are no longer confined to the 'local context.' Rather, the location of individuals and the time frame in which they interact has become indefinite. It is hard to say when this began, but the development of a postal service is a good example. With mail, social relations could be conducted across broad geographic areas (no longer limited to the local context) and within indefinite time spans (due to the time lag in mail delivery).

Money is also a technology of disembedding. In barter, the goods to be exchanged need to come together in time and space. With money - the crystalline form of trust - there's no need.

Disembedding isn't bad. A community of one hundred people couldn't support - and wouldn't need to support - a cartographer, but a community of a hundred thousand has just the niche for such an abstract role. And I'm glad, because I like maps. Big communities are supported by disembedding.

But now we have a trade-off. Currency to disembed exchange of goods from markets in town squares is, well, handy. Social currency to disembed exchange of friend interactions from the fuggy physical world of smells and touches is... well, handy - in that I get cartographers - but a teeny bit inhuman. Possibly. Facebook (and the like) also means eventually smelling and touching people you'd otherwise have never met. And television gives you things in common with a billion people you'll probably never meet, although you might.

I don't have a conclusion. And I'm not planning on renting any friends.