At this point I’ve met hundreds – maybe even thousands – of people online. A good number of them I’ve spoken to directly for prolonged periods of time. Some have been advised by me, fewer have gotten some sort of writing or encouragement from me, and very, very few have even asked questions to get more knowledge from me or ask how I’m doing.
One reason why I complain about the private destroying the public is because when everything is personal, showing gratitude and keeping in touch do not matter. A bond or lack of bond is assumed that justifies careless behavior towards another. Notice there is a way to talk about one’s personal life, even one’s most intimate thoughts with “grace,” “that which reasonably pleases” from Strauss’ commentary on Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (I think Jennifer and Ario and Lori pull this off routinely, and I’m thrilled to read them). There’s a way for everything said to be all about oneself and yet not destroy the public, that sense of distance that sees others as justified in their pride and not merely vulnerable.
Everyone online knows how to promote themselves, and they work from the notion that others must come to them. And that’s a fine starting point – I myself can’t possibly keep in touch with everyone I know all the time. But I wonder if that self-promotion has an end of any sort, or whether it is just insecurity transmitted over wires onto screen. And I wonder if that insecurity is the only way we can relate to others, and leads us to use others because “misery loves company.” Maybe we want to relate to others shallowly, since if we can’t have the friends we want, then it must be written into the nature of the world that no one can have friends. Ironically enough, a notion that there are “public goods” would mean we have to shelf our insecurity – just for a second – and pretend that other people were capable and we too could be capable.