To a large extent, civilization has been defined by the way it communicates and the tectonic plates of of our culture have shifted. Permanently.  The social web has ushered in the “Era of Alone.”

You can witness this transformational power of communication in almost any history book.

Look at a map of Europe. Ever wonder why all the countries are approximately the same size? It was largely determined by how much territory a messenger could cover on horseback in two days. Even the vast empires of the past were divided into states that approximated this size. You could not possibly control a territory larger than a two-day ride from the center point. Communication determined kingdoms.

Communication also defined our social structures. Even the smallest Medieval village had a town square where people could meet, trade and socialize. Gathering each evening to meet was the only communication channel we had for centuries. The entire city was built around that center of communication.

With radio, for the first time, we could get immediate news and entertainment without stepping outside.   The TV became the centerpiece of the home, a place where families gathered each evening to watch a flickering screen. That innovation, combined with the automobile, ended the need for city squares, but it was still a “social” communication channel — you could do it with your family and friends.  In fact, it was better that way.

Today, seemingly every person under 40 is wired to a portable electronic communicator to provide news and entertainment how we want it, where we want it, when we want it.  It’s called the Internet and social media, but there isn’t much truly “social” about it. We don’t gather in a city center to share Facebook. We don’t sit around a fireplace and read tweets to one another.

For the first time in history, daily communication and entertainment can be a solitary event. I’ve observed hordes of teenagers hunched over cell phones, frantically texting one another … even when they are surrounded by friends! Isn’t it ironic these new tools actively, incessantly pull us away from live human interaction, and yet we call it “social” media?

The basic premise of the popular “World is Flat” book is that people and place don’t matter any more. We can be employed, connected, global citizens and never step outside.  If we do, it’s to the coffee shop for WiFi rather than camaraderie.

How strange and sad. You and I never have to meet or speak or touch one another.  We can be completely informed, entertained and connected individuals, while sitting alone in a small dark room.  Civilization is still defined by how we communicate. Welcome to the Era of Alone.

I’ve learned that when I spew deep thoughts like this nobody reads it, so congratulations, and thank you, if you’ve made it this far.  : )   I appreciate your indulgence and would value your comments!
This is the Fourth and final segment of a series on “Self and Social Media.”
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