Cicero was a wise human being who wrote that a man with a garden and a library has all he needs. He also said that only a man without a brain tweets. (Well, he would have said it, were he around today.) The Oxford philosopher John Gray, a man I used to get drunk with until he gave up the sauce, insists that the pursuit of distraction has now been embraced as the meaning of life. Gray knows what he’s talking about. In his latest book, The Silence of Animals, he portrays man as a desperate creature who twists and turns to avoid acknowledging that he, too, is an animal. The ancient Greek philosopher Taki calls people who tweet and spend their time on Facebook the closest thing to subhumans. Cicero, John Gray, Taki—three great thinkers known for their silences and, I can speak only for the latter, not owning a mobile.
Yes, dear Chronicles readers, one can no longer read a news report online without noticing one hundred bilious and moronic comments following it. Everyone today has become a commentator, parading his or her idiotic and illiterate musings for the world to see. It seems that shame is a word no longer understood by the great unwashed—and even by some who shower daily. A British reporter recently broadcast his vasectomy over the web. What a pity his father didn’t have one before that particular slob came on board.
About 30 years ago, the great Tom Wolfe christened those awful yuppies the Me Generation. It has got much worse since. It is now the Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, and Only Me Generation. No one seems to be able to live without an audience, a paroxysm of narcissism with the net as its Valhalla. And what rubbish it is. People will post anything that pops into their Paris Hilton-like heads, the more banal the better. I have never understood Twitter; all I know is, had Dante been around when it was invented, he’d send the inventor to the Tenth Circle of Hell, for even greater punishment. Disguising their emptiness and ignorance with impudence, 21st-century Hemingways pose and preen on the screen, filling up cyberspace with rubbish. And don’t get me started on Facebook, whose concept has been explained to me by my son and daughter. Leave it to one of the world’s great slobs to steal the idea from two WASPy brothers and make the world an even lousier place than it is.
The urge to blab and spill one’s innermost secrets to strangers is more than weird; it’s sickening. It springs from a navel-gazing culture of narcissism that would have made even poor Narcissus blush. The shrillness of the comments by persons unknown is typical of the cowardice of the posters. One man in Britain threatened to kill a woman who led the campaign to have Jane Austen’s image on a ten-pound note, but when the woman traced him, he apologized and begged her not to reveal his name. She did, and his picture appeared in the newspapers, and he looked like the biggest wimp I’d ever seen in my rather long life. But he sure sounded tough while tweeting.
I regularly receive e-mails from individuals I’ve never heard of who wish to be my “friend” on Facebook, whatever that means. They remind me of people who go to orgies, something I don’t indulge in, although I’m hardly a prude. And then there is hacking into bogus “likes” on Facebook. I am told that millions are made by hackers who advertise their products on peoples’ Facebook timelines, mostly porn stuff and drugs. Zuckerberg could put a stop to it, but he’s so greedy he won’t. It’s called freedom of speech. Some speech. No one knows anymore what’s real and what’s bogus, except that the government is listening in on one’s Oprah-like confessions and sexual preferences.
Young people who grow up twittering will remain tongue-tied and unable to express the simplest of thoughts—“like, like, ah, like you know, ah . . . ” And it’s just as well. Confessions and self-absorption are unpleasant traits, so the more inarticulate the great American public becomes, the better off the rest of us are. The ceaseless, unchecked sharing of opinions online is the logical endgame of a society no longer ashamed of anything. The slovenly emotionalism of Oprah has replaced privacy, good taste, reticence, and other such restraints people of my generation grew up with. Plus another thing. I count myself lucky not to have to answer a mobile telephone whenever some blabbermouth wants to talk. I can’t think of anything more intrusive than a ringing telephone while sitting down to lunch or, dare I say it, in the midst of lovemaking. We all remember that awful scene of some time ago when Paris Hilton, while being serviced by some lowlife, heard her mobile going off. “Don’t answer it,” said the lowlife. But she did, without missing a beat. As Frank Sinatra would have said, “There goes a real classy broad.” Personally, I only use the net to file my copy and receive e-mails. Nothing more. I buy books in bookstores, use a travel agent to book my flights, and don’t advertise my moods or movements for the world to know. Throw away your contraptions; you have nothing to lose but rubbish.