Nov 22, 2013

Antisocial media

We’ve heard it all, repeatedly: social media, ironically, is (are?) making us more antisocial. Technology (especially, again ironically, communications technology) is separating us rather than bringing us together. We have ‘relationships’ conducted entirely online. We stare at our mobile phones rather than make eye contact with the people in front of us. We text each other rather than engage in face-to-face conversations. Try doing a Web search of the word antisocial and any combination of media, technology, and phone, and you will find numerous opinions on the debate. And every time I come across yet another rant on any side of the issue, I am reminded of this classic passage from Geoffrey Chaucer’s House of Fame (lines 644-660). The Eagle is lecturing the hapless Geoffrey:

British Library MS Lansdowne 851, fol. 2r (detail).
. . . thou hast no tydynges
Of Loves folk yf they be glade,
Ne of noght elles that God made;
And noght oonly fro fer contree
That ther no tydynge cometh to thee,
But of thy verray neyghebores,
That duellen almost at thy dores,
Thou herist neyther that ne this;
For when thy labour doon al ys,
And hast mad alle thy rekenynges,
In stede of reste and newe thynges
Thou goost hom to thy hous anoon,
And, also domb as any stoon,
Thou sittest at another book
Tyl fully daswed ys thy look;
And lyvest thus as an heremyte,
Although thyn abstynence ys lyte.

It’s all there, in a poem written six centuries ago. ‘Geoffrey,’ says the Eagle, ‘you live in oblivious ignorance. You’re shutting out the world. You don’t even know your neighbours. When you’re done work, you go straight home and sit there by yourself, staring slack-jawed at another of those things: you become an inanimate object, completely dazed, living like some kind of pathetic excuse for a hermit.’

And the technological device that causes Geoffrey’s antisocial behaviour? The book.

Plus ├ža change . . .

Yin Liu

References

The passage from Chaucer’s House of Fame is quoted from the edition by John M. Fyler in The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), following F. N. Robinson’s edition of Bodleian Library MS Fairfax 16, fols. 154v-183v, as the base text.

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