January 30, 2012

The Amish Project

A 24-year-old student went 90 days without using a cell phone, email or social media. Yahoo News interviewed him about the experience:

I definitely just lost complete contact with people that normally would have been part of my life. I mean it’s also an interesting metric for your life to see who some of your closest friends are, you know, and who’s willing to take the time.

I find it an interesting thought experiment to contrast this idea with Clusterflock, which is the clearest example in my life of the relationship-building power of the internet and social technology. The internet made it possible to seek out an entirely new tribe of people – people with which I have so much in common and so much to talk about, but that I hadn’t realized existed.

But then there are social networks like Facebook, which at their worst takes all of the people who are already part of your life – your co-workers, your school chums, your family – and hands them a level of intimacy about our lives that they haven’t really earned and don’t particularly deserve. I think that’s why it’s so interesting when these online relationships predicated on intimate knowledge but passive communication go bust when one party pulls out of Facebook – we’re just learning a hard lesson about the differences between that kind of intimate knowledge and true friendship, which for the longest time I thought were one and the same.

A couple relatives recently found me on Google Plus (I use it primarily for the sad remnants of what was once Google Reader). I hadn’t even acknowledged their existence before they were already commenting on every single piece of information attached to my name. This, I’m told, is keeping in touch.


  1. Deron Bauman on January 30th, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    Thank god I deleted my Facebook account. I’m wondering if I need to do the same with Google+.

  2. Kelsey Parker on January 31st, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I am very close to deleting my Facebook account. I only keep it for family updates, but even that has been losing its value. I’ve always been the one to say that it’s not worth deactivating, but look at me now…

  3. Joel Bernstein on January 31st, 2012 at 1:26 am

    But then how will I send you funny videos of cats?

    Besides twitter, I mean.

    And this site.

  4. Derek White on January 31st, 2012 at 2:08 am

    For the past decade or so i’ve been corresponding through the mail occasionally with an artist (Guy Beining) that does not have a computer or phone, etc. A few months ago he tracked me down and sent me a letter to Rome. While it was a nice gesture & i’ve held on to the letter for months now, with the intention of writing him a letter back, yesterday I threw this letter in the garbage. Part of me respects this, and it was an easy thing to do in the states, to drop a letter in a mailbox, but i just decided there are two many other communication “to dos” piling up that are far easier to handle by email, and too many hurdles to writing letters the old-fashioned way, especially given how crappy the Italian postal system is. Sorry Guy.

    Yesterday someone also asked me to fax something. I mean, please, can we just get rid of those things?

  5. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Kelsey, your distinction between intimate knowledge (alone) and true friendship is quite profound.

  6. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Also, sparked by Derek’s comment: I believe that Renner still maintains a correspondence with Gordon Lish, and that entirely via postcard.

  7. Derek White on January 31st, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Yeah, well for Lish i might write a letter. I think he has a phone anyway.

  8. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Landline, I’m guessing.

  9. Derek White on January 31st, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I don’t think he’s the recluse people think he is. I used to see him around town, either at readings or watching children at the playground. Another time i saw him talking to a hot dog vendor.

  10. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 11:16 am

    In other words, what used to be regarded as a normal life and which now appears ‘reclusive’.

  11. Deron Bauman on January 31st, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I got a call from Gordon a couple months ago: Deron, this is Gordon, do call me back. I called back. Gordon, this is Deron. Silence. Deron Bauman. Oh! You’ve caught me at a bad time.

  12. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Not entirely normal.

  13. Michael Smith on January 31st, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I’m notoriously awful at keeping in contact with anyone. I deleted my Facebook a while back and never miss it. I never use Google+ and on twitter I mostly just type random shit that I hope someone laughs at.

    Going back to Facebook, I think one of the reasons I don’t miss it is that Alicia is still there and she acts as a kind of filter for me. She is “friends” with most of the people I care about and will update me on the important stuff.

    Not that many months ago Alicia said to me, hey, Maggie changed her Facebook status to engaged. Maggie and I grew up together. We spent summer vacations together. Her family was an extension of my family. Because we lost touch overtime, Alicia has only met her a handful of times. But here we were, at least a year since I’d last talked to Maggie, and Alicia was telling me she’d gotten engaged.

    I wrote a quick email off to her, offering congratulations and we traded messages back and forth for a few weeks updating each other on our lives (it turns out she knew much about what was going on in mine because of Facebook).

    In this case, I’m better in touch with an old friend thanks to Facebook.

  14. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Notorious Smith. Notoriously Awful Smith.

  15. Sheila Ryan on January 31st, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I maintain my Facebook account for the sake of maybe half a dozen to a dozen people for whom Facebook seems to be their principal mode of communication. At least, the principal mode that I share. So I just check in and see what they have to say. I respond, and that’s pretty much it.

  16. growler on January 31st, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    This deep insight depresses me, because I realize it applies not only to my life online, but my life in general.