Culture needs social scenes


Helen Fitzgerald on the virtues of wanting people to like us @ The New Inquiry
In Paris this past month, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to pretend I was part of the Lost Generation. I sat in cafes with gestural cigarettes and glasses of wine, and imagined myself crowding dialogue, confessions, secrets, and arguments that were the same as sex or sex that was the same as arguments into the earliest, wet-cheeked, wide-eyed hours of the blue morning.

Eventually I realized these adventures weren’t going to happen. I don’t speak French, don’t know anyone in Paris, and minus a few significant exceptions, everyone I love lives in New York. In what were actually rather empty cafes, I sat with my computer and participated in what passes for that sort of excitement for my generation — brief, witty comments on relevant facebook links, and off and on g-chat discussions of what was going on back home, removed discussions of what I was reading and where I had been. I told myself that since the internet permitted me myriad social interactions with the same people I’d be seeing in person in New York, nothing was lost in the substitutions.
After all, sociality has in many ways shifted fully to the internet, and the most hopeful myth about the social internet is that it is indistinguishable from in-person sociality, each being merely a seamless extension of the other. In leaving New York for a few months, I had tried to convince myself that the difference was immaterial; one could replace the other without changing the use or nourishment I got from them. I could still talk to all the same people, still see photos of and hear stories from the events I would have attended, and still virtually participate in projects with which I was involved. If one understands the internet as an essentially social entity then it is hard to argue that there is any real difference in switching one’s social life from a real to a virtual medium.  read more