Lonely people have a natural affinity for the internet. It’s always there waiting, patient, flexible, suitable for every mood. But there are times when the net reminds me of the definition of a bore by Meyer the hairy economist, best friend of Travis McGee: “You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”
What do lonely people desire? Companionship. Love. Recognition. Entertainment. Camaraderie. Distraction.
Encouragement. Change. Feedback. Someone once said the fundamental reason we get married is because have a universal human need for a witness. All of these are possibilities. But what all lonely people share is a desire not to be — or at least not to feel — alone.
You are there in the interstices of the web. I sense you. I know some of you. I have read more than 78,000 comments on this blog, and many of them have been from you. I know two readers who if possible would never leave their homes. I know more who cannot easily leave, because of illness or responsibilities. I don’t know of any agoraphobics, but there probably are some. Just because you’re afraid to go outside doesn’t mean you’re happy being inside.
And people say the Internet is a dehumanizing medium. As if. For precisely the reason Ebert illustrates, the Internet is at its core a network of people, whether it’s the users inhabiting huge social landscapes or a couple emailing across the country.
It reminds me of a quote by a former headmaster of Lawrenceville. When asked to define Lawrenceville, the headmaster paused just a second before replying that Lawrenceville was no more than the aggregate of all the personal relationships that have occurred over time on its campus. It’s a wonderful thought; a way of defining an institution that we can all appreciate. My questions: is this an appropriate way to describe the Internet, as Ebert’s column suggests to me it is? Or is it an appropriate way to define Penn State? Perhaps not… but I think these are concepts worth thinking about.