Something like 15 years ago Jon Stewart pointed out that politics is dominated by the fringe because everyone in the middle "has better shit to do with their lives." Robert Putnam pointed out 20 years ago that civic engagement was petering out to nothing; nobody talked to their neighbors anymore, nobody had a community sense of belonging and everyone was lonely AF.
20 years ago. Before Myspace. Before Facebook. Before Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat.
We've got that community now - or we think we do. We have these synthetic communities of people we'll never meet held together by esoteric hobbies or fringe interests or personal beliefs; going on 30 years ago I had to help a panicked girl I'd never met connect with a depressed boy I'd never met because the former was pregnant and the latter was suicidal and the only thing we had in common was a Skinny Puppy email list. They got married; not only did I never meet them I can't even remember their names.
They were my closest friends my junior year in college. Their kid's older than you now.
So here we are. Forming ersatz communities out of nothing in an environment where we're only getting about 20% of our experience out of what we see. Human communication is about 80% non-verbal and when you crank it down to text you lose nearly all of it but as Sherry Turkle and others have observed we'll psychologically bend over backward to fill in the blanks. So that alias expressing a thought you agree with somewhere over there on the Internet? You'll build up all the details you need around those sentences to make him into a friend. And now you have friends. But as soon as he expresses an opinion you disagree with you'll tear down your friendship scaffolding and build up an enemy. Ever wondered why people get more worked up over kerfuffles on their Facebook graph than they do over shit that happens in real life? 95% of their experience online is made up out of whole cloth by their own psyche so when shit goes wrong it's an existential threat to their understanding of the universe.
People are so fucking alone now. A disturbing portion of the weddings I've been to? Turns out I'm the best man. Wasn't arranged that way it was just "you were the only friend of mine who showed up so can you come up with a speech?" I'm the best friend of a terrifying number of people. We don't have friends anymore we have interests that we share with people we don't even know beyond a name, a picture and a constellation of typical grammatical mistakes.
#lolbrooks is a thing. Here's one way of looking at him:
I mean, yeah - wouldn't we all rather just get along? What David Brooks doesn't get (never gets) is that if everyone is acting other than how it makes sense to act, it's not because people are mean or stupid or confused by lunchmeat it's because something is wrong. That thing-that-is-wrong is the sort of stuff we expect columnists to explore or explain, not gloss over and that's why David Brooks is a walking Principal Skinner meme.
It can be explained.
We don't make friends anymore. We don't meet people. We don't spend time with complex human beings with different opinions than us that we are required to integrate into our understanding of them. Both sides would argue that the "median" is with them, it's those other guys who have become moon-howlers but that's because 9/10ths of the people we know we don't actually know.
Went to a wedding a couple years ago. Probably 200 guests. The common theme was "man I haven't talked to Derek in years it's good to see he's doing well." If I look at Derek in my text messages five deep and I'm in 2014. Yet I'd had lunch with him a couple months before; of everyone I talked to I'd seen him more recently than anyone other than his parents. 200 names in the Rolodex, zero friends.
What big idea counteracts division, fragmentation, alienation? It is found in Leviticus and Matthew: Love your neighbor.
The only thing we know about our neighbors anymore are whose signs they put on their lawns. That's a tough one to love your way out of, which is why he's #lolbrooks.