Articles and Posts by Scott P. Richert:
” . . . despite the obvious reality that it is, by its very nature, diminishing the users’ grasp on reality.” Which (for the benefit of readers who were not there) was the second half of my talk (“Virtual Realities”) at the 2011 meeting of the John Randolph Club. (Readers can purchase a CD of that talk, and of the other talks from that meeting, by calling (800) 383-0680.)
Few technologies (and I’m using that term loosely here, because I think that social media doesn’t really deserve that title) are wholly evil, though I am willing to stipulate that, on a continuum from fire, the lever, and the wheel (the relatively good) to nuclear energy (the relatively evil), the entire computer revolution sits very close to the latter. But, as you’ve suggested, Tom, we have to use the tools we have if we wish “to survive in an increasingly inhuman world.” The Amish option is not an option.
I’m well aware of the world we have lost. My little village, in the 1970′s and early 1980′s, was easily 25 to 30 years behind the times. Little divorce, no crime, solid schools, many families living in the same area for multiple generations, neighbors on porches, concerts on summer evenings, local sporting events that were true community activities . . . I was blessed to have a childhood that my children never could.
“For the most part, the world is gone.” Indeed—even in my hometown. And we can shrug our shoulders and curse our fate, or we can work—as readers will see in the issues you have planned for Chronicles over the next year—to remind others of what we have lost, and work to restore some part of it. Even if we have to use such tools as Facebook.
Re: Half a Cheer—Or Less(0)
“All these things are a lot like TV.” Well, yes and no. The damage done by TV was rather total. The older neighborhoods of Rockford have many front porches; very few of them are ever used today, even on evenings that are as beautiful as today’s is likely to be. Instead of enjoying conversation while watching the sunset and the slow fade of dusk into twilight, most families in Rockford tonight will be gathering round an oddly flickering blue light—or, more likely, not gathering but dispersing, each parent and child drawn like a moth to his own blue flame.
Facebook and other social media can lead to that same sort of fragmentation and dispersion as well—only a fool would deny that. But unlike TV or radio, Facebook can be used to draw people together—by which I don’t mean in “virtual reality,” but in the real world. As I mentioned, my 25-year high-school reunion was planned on Facebook, and some classmates who had disappeared after graduation and thus had never learned of previous reunions were found through Facebook and made it to this one. My cousins and I are planning my grandmother’s 100th birthday party the same way. With scores of people involved, Facebook has actually made it easier to pick a date that will work for most and to coordinate plans than more traditional means of communication would have.
These are things—indeed, I’ll go so far as to say good things—that TV and radio simply cannot facilitate.
Is it “touchy-feely sentimentalism” to “invest much in communication with distant friends and relations”? Perhaps. But I think an argument can be made that it is a half-step back toward the reality that has been shattered by TV and radio.
Two Cheers for Facebook(0)
I learned of the death of my friend and schoolmate Ellen Middlebrook Herron the way I increasingly learn of all such milestones on life’s journey: through Facebook. The first notice I saw was posted by one of my oldest friends, Steve Miller; how he learned of Ellen’s death, I do not know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had found out through Facebook, too.
Ellen was about as far as you could get from the stereotype of the “typical Facebook user.” Her passion in life was rare books and manuscripts; Oxford-trained, she was responsible for organizing and cataloging several of the most important collections of rare Bibles and Christian texts in the United States, discovering a number of one-of-a-kind books and manuscripts in the process. Her talent did not go unnoticed: In 2001, she was chosen as the curator for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit on its five-year trip around the United States.
We lost touch after high school, reconnecting a few years ago on Facebook. Back problems and unexplainable migraines and vertigo had brought an early end to her promising career. Often unable to leave her parents’ home, she found in Facebook a way to keep in touch with friends that she could not see.
Ellen was not able to make our 25-year high-school reunion (planned on Facebook) last August, and I wish that I had had the chance to see her in person once again. But it was physical distance, and her health, that prevented that, not Facebook. As skeptical as I am of the long-term benefits of Facebook, I am grateful today, as I mourn her loss and pray for the repose of her soul, that it gave me a little more time with Ellen.
Memorial Day has always been my favorite secular holiday, in part because it is the most Catholic of all U.S. holidays. It is the only day of the year in which significant numbers of Americans (of all religious backgrounds) visit cemeteries to honor the dead, though their numbers (the honorers, not the honorees) are dwindling with each passing year. Memorial Day parades often appear more suited to Veterans Day—an understandable confusion among parade-goers, though less so among the veterans who march in the parades (and one that the veterans in my hometown would never have made). Parades that end at cemeteries, rather than at some arbitrary point (as the Memorial Day parade here in Rockford does), drive home the reason behind this holiday.
Over at Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo has chosen to celebrate the holiday with a post entitled “Abolish Memorial Day.” It is somewhat less provocative than the title suggests, though unless the reader is a libertarian, he is unlikely to find himself entirely in agreement with Justin. While making a good point about the collective amnesia from which we suffer in America, Justin exhibits a certain amnesia of his own, regarding Memorial Day as a time to remember the wars in which we’ve fought, especially those we lost or should not have fought at all, and to learn lessons from them. But while that may be a side effect of celebrating Memorial Day as it ought to be celebrated (rather than as a head start on summer), it is not point of this holiday.
In a way, it’s the flipside of what Justin decries. Here in Rockford, current military hardware was in abundance at our parade, exhibiting an unhealthy preoccupation with war—a preoccupation that overshadows the memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.
Re: Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame(0)
Tom, I’m pretty optimistic about the lawsuit filed by Notre Dame and 42 other Catholic organizations. Filing essentially the same case in multiple federal district courts increases the possibility of getting the right result out of at least one, and getting mixed results will kick this issue up to the Supreme Court.
So it seems likely that we’ll get the result we’re all hoping for. But will that be anything more than a minor victory?
Looking at the way both sides approach the contraception mandate is instructive. The Catholic approach is a rearguard action—”We’ve always been good citizens; all we want to do is go back to the status quo ante.” But the Obama administration and its supporters see this as merely one blow in a much larger campaign, the purpose of which is to turn women into the type of solid Democratic voting bloc that blacks currently are.
This was brought home to me in an exchange on my About.com Catholicism site. When I wrote about Georgetown inviting Kathleen Sebelius to speak, a female reader replied, “This is why the Catholic church has lost so many members. You don’t care about women.”
Since all the women in the comments thread except for this one and one other had disagreed with Georgetown’s decision, I asked whether this meant that those women do not care about women. The reply?
It means that not all women think for themselves. Surviving in a man’s world means carrying men’s water for a lot of women. I feel sorry for them but I try to remember that not everyone can stand up against that kind of power.
In other words, for a woman to think for herself, she must think like all of those women who agree with Barack Obama.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
Re: It’s All Over/Facebook IPO(1)
Tom, the Facebook IPO went about how I predicted it would. I’d been trying to figure out how to short Facebook out of the gate, because it simply seemed obvious that Facebook’s business model cannot, in the long run, support even the $38 opening price (and perhaps not even in the short run). Zuckerberg and his cronies made fantastic fortunes on Friday, but many of the small investors who bought in have already lost money.
Facebook makes its money the way Google does: through advertising. Google talks about its various properties as “products,” but they’re simply vehicles for delivering advertising to consumers. Or, rather, they’re vehicles for delivering its real products—consumers—to its real customers—the advertisers.
Facebook makes roughly $4 per year per account holder in advertising revenue. With 901 million active users as of April, that’s a pretty penny. But in order to justify the $38 opening price (much less anything higher), Facebook needs to bring in quite a bit more. Just as Google ads have become more obtrusive since its IPO, look for Facebook ads—so far, largely a model of restraint—to become more obnoxious.
Historians of the digital age—assuming anyone bothers to chronicle the digital age—will look back at Facebook’s IPO as the day the Facebook fantasy died.
How Not to Write a Direct-Mail Package (Or, Their Mistake Is Your Gain)(13)
Executive editor Scott P. Richert uncovers an unwitting plot to promote Chronicles. Find out who’s behind it, and take advantage of a special offer.
The Heart of Darkness(9)
Rockford’s abortuary, the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, is closed for business. What has its impact been on the Rockford community?
Here is Scott P. Richert’s column from our October 2011 issue, on newsstands now, on Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs passed away on October 5.
Fool for the Truth(39)
In late February, in the midst of the uproar over Live Action’s exposé of Planned Parenthood, I wrote a piece about the controversy for the About.com Catholicism GuideSite. The piece argued that, whatever good intentions Lila Rose and her comrades at Live Action may have had, they stepped over the line, and their tactics could not be justified under Catholic moral theology. But now, five or six weeks later, I’m beginning to have second thoughts.