The End of Intimacy, Trust, and Love
“When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships.” – Andy Warhol
I’ve been thinking about how the world has been coming apart lately.
Homo sapiens, as is often pointed out, are social creatures. We live in concentric social circles that extend outwards from the individual in degrees of love, trust, and intimacy.
At the center is the individual – i.e., YOU. Around you is a small circle of people you greatly love and deeply trust. This may include your spouse and immediate family and closest friends. But it may not. You know they are in your innermost circle because losing any one of them would be devastating to you. It would change your life forever. It would feel like losing a part of your heart. This is your Circle of Love.
Beyond them is a larger circle of people with whom you have good and comfortable relationships. You like them and they like you. You know how to enjoy each other’s company, and when you are together, you shift immediately into that familiar social mode. You may even say (and believe) that you love them. But you know – if you are honest with yourself – that you would not be devastated if they disappeared from your life. Still, you believe that you can trust them to help you if you need help. That matters to you. This group, too, can include family or friends. This is your Circle of Trust.
The third circle that surrounds you is your Circle of Acquaintanceship. It is comprised of people you interact with regularly but don’t know – or care – very much about. These are people from whom you might ask a favor and for whom you might do a favor, but only if it is not a terribly big one. And then it would depend on your mood.
Beyond that, there is a fourth circle: the billions of people you don’t know and that you care about only in the most abstract way. This is the Circle of the Others.
Those four circles have comprised man’s social universe for millennia. However, in the middle of the twentieth century, as we began to get most of our daily information from radio and television, a new circle appeared. This fifth circle was comprised of all the people we had never met personally but about whom we had strong feelings and opinions.
This fifth circle quickly pushed the fourth to the perimeter and then moved into third position. We began to trust the pundits we admired on radio and TV more than we trusted our neighbors. And we began to love our favorite TV personalities more than we loved our neighbors, too, even though we knew nothing about them but the characters they played.
Welcome to the Circle of Delusion… otherwise known as the Circle of Social Entropy…otherwise known as How We Put an End to Civilization.
Since the proliferation of social media, the Circle of Social Entropy has been nudging its way inwards towards the center of our social universe. It bypassed the Circle of the Others almost immediately and then the Circle of Acquaintanceship soon thereafter. Today, for millions, it has bypassed the Circle of Trust and is threatening to bypass even the Circle of Love. (An easy way to measure this is by seeing what’s been happening on Facebook the last few years. People are deleting “friends” over social and political issues.) In real life, friendships and families are disintegrating over social media posts.
In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan argued that, by its nature, media has an effect on the ideas and sentiments that people form. He was right about that.
What social media has done in a very short time is astonishing. It has essentially allowed virtual relationships to move closer in our universe of intimacy than real ones. Increasingly, we have greater trust in the pundits, politicians, celebrities, and influencers we encounter daily through social media than we do in our neighbors, extended family, and friends.
I believe we are at the end of the way we have, for more than 100,000 years, developed relationships with other people. We are quickly moving into a world where love, and trust, and intimacy will be a largely digital experience.
What’s happening today is the end of real relationships. To me, that means an end to freedom and individuality.
And it gets worse. We are also on the threshold of The End of Real Knowledge. I’ll talk about that on Wednesday.
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