It used to be that the mass of men led lives of quiet desperation. Now we can’t shut up about it. Every op-ed columnist has another idea as to what’s wrong with us and a million suggestions about how to fix it. Naturally, there are plenty of books on the subject.
Alone Together is in the grand tradition of Bowling Alone, The Shallows, The Dumbest Generation and umpteen other books about modern society’s ability to make us isolated and less human. In this case, social media is draining us of our ability to truly connect with each other. To make things worse, robots are being programmed to elicit emotions from us, weakening our desire to connect with real people, only increasing our isolation.
Not only are we isolated, but when we do get together, we form vicious, self-important cliques that can’t stop arguing. The Righteous Mind makes a long, sophisticated argument that our reason is heavily influenced by our gut emotions, and our gut emotions find great solace in forming groups and defending them to the bitter end. When this mob mentality extends to the political arena, it can take an awful lot of understanding to keep a fight from breaking out.
But then again, there’s a chance this geeky cliquishness will turn out for the better. Supported by technology, all our little self-important communities have made this country a wonderful sort of weird. We Are All Weird argues that mass culture is dying and being replaced by a society of people not so worried about being normal. And what’s so horrible about that?
Maybe worrying about what’s wrong with us is the wrong way to go. Sure, we’re a bunch of opinionated, tech-addicted oddballs. Rather than whine about it, which only makes it worse, let’s just own it and learn to embrace the weird.