If we imagine a spectrum with separation on the far left, and absolute connection over to the right, then social behaviours lie somewhere clearly on that right hand side. But all of this should appear so natural that you’d wonder why I was stating such an obvious fact.
Now, when we look at wealth and technology, both play a significant role in decreasing our levels of social interaction through various physical barriers, and allowing us the possibility to remain isolated. With this is mind, we can begin to look at certain human behaviours as being antisocial, that we wouldn’t normally consider as such.
For example, driving is antisocial because travelling at high speed in a large metal box shapes our interactions in a profound way that walking or cycling do not. Coupled with the fact that the existence of motor vehicles necessitates a whole specialised infrastructure of their own, it means that during any given antisocial voyage, we are more likely to encounter other individuals in the same predicament.
Although the speed associated with motorised travel plays a part, the intermediary of an often enclosed vehicle is a major barrier to social exchange. For example, although a horse and carriage may have a significantly lower average speed than a car driven about town, the carriage itself still serves as an isolation chamber, not to mention the added dimension of the carriage being propelled by non-human conscious beings.
I think of these barriers as being like layers of protective glass, that while they are transparent, and thus mostly go unnoticed, they nevertheless function as physical and psychological separators.
If you think that these differences between modes of transport are trivial, then you should think of travelling, and more to the point, stopping, in terms of energy and contrast. 60 mph to 0 mph over a short distance requires a huge amount of energy, especially when we are talking about halting a 1-ton object. The contrast between 60 to 0 and then back to 60 again is sharp. Now consider walking, even at your top speed, or the peak of your sprint even. The energy taken to stop and start again is in an entirely different league, not to mention the psychological effort involved in each case. Viewed from this perspective, motor vehicles possess a kind of “will” of their own, whereby the only time they would willingly stop is once they have reached their final destination, or run out of fuel.
If we characterise post-industrial civilisation as being more machine-like and less human, in doing so we realise that the post-human civilisation already started to take shape some time ago. And it is the machines produced by this society that serve as mechanical metaphors for a civilisation that under the influence of technology, is unable to slow down and reflect on itself, let alone stop and smell the roses. Every one of these machines is a single point of a man-made, factory-fashioned fractal.
Now that we may be able to understand the relative importance of travelling by foot, or other “slow” methods, the ability to completely remove the need for any type of travel becomes a significant factor in our theory of antisocialisation.
Phones were one of the first big steps in restructuring human society, and by that time we were well on our way to being spared the inconvenience of being confined to a human body and mind, that can only be in one place at a time.
The internet and e-commerce have taken things a step further in relieving us of the chore of physical movement and the need to expose ourselves to the outside world.
Social media hasn’t come about because of the internet, but is a natural response in an unnatural situation, to the fact that not only have we been separated from our family and friends, but despite, or because we live in densely populated buildings, towns and cities, we are actually strangers among strangers. Our society has less to do with companionship, friendly association with others, alliance, union, and community, as is suggested by the etymology of the word, and more to do with individuality, competition, and simply putting up with each other.
As I have said in the past in relation to other phenomena, social media is both a symptom of, and a response to life in a domesticated environment.
When you think that for millennia and up until very recently, all things social revolved around physical contact and face-to-face communication, you realise that the word “social” in “social media” does not have the same meaning or connotations. Likewise, “face-to-face” used to refer to a couple of people sitting at their computers or on their phones in separate parts of the world, bears only a shallow resemblance to what we have been accustomed to it meaning.
While the use of a prosthetic form of social interaction doesn’t make people antisocial as such, in the sense that it makes its users feel less like being social (if this were the case, the prosthetic would not survive long), it does reduce the amount of available time and energy for real (complete) social encounters, while simultaneously helping reshape our normality.
If sharing is a social trait, and I feel it is reasonable to think it is, then ownership is antisocial in most cases. Carpooling and couchsurfing are just two of the methods that allow people to share what would normally be considered private property, thus the social nature of human beings has been important in helping regenerate healthy social interaction in an antisocial environment.
Houses, or at least our civilised conception of them, are a prime example of antisocial behaviour manifested in physical form. Not only are the walls, gates and hedges physical dividers on prominent display, but this separation is also evident in our language – a synonym for house is “property”, which leaves no doubt about where you are not welcome.
Notice how public housing and public transport; the domains of the non-wealthy, place people in close proximity that the rich avoid by having their own personal vehicles and private property. Also note that I am not suggesting that the forced closeness evident in cities makes people more social, on the contrary, I think city dwellers would like to have their own space and possessions as much as anyone, if not more. What I do think though, is that there is a correlation between wealth and (social) separation, and that wealth simply enables us to enact our antisocial tendencies given a state of overpopulation on a finite planet with resources growing increasingly scarce.