David Ehrenfeld, Pseudocommunities

from Becoming Good Ancestors (2009)


1.      Diagnosis of the passive/casual rudeness story?

         a.      Students treating him as if talking head on a TV screen and not a real person

         b.      TV authority figures can’t hear them, don’t take offense, don’t rebuke

2.      TV’s and E-communication’s negative affects

         a.      Has induced passivity, unresponsiveness

                   i.       "The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa, which freezes a billion people to stone every night," Ray Bradbury (author of dystopia Fahrenheit 451)

         b.      Encourages a “wandering, superficial mentality”

                   i.       Don’t really have to pay attention as no one there to react to you

         c.      Isolates and alienates people

                   i.       People sitting in a living room with T.V. on not really paying attention to or talking with each other

         d.      Loneliness of people caught in the television culture”

                   i.       Internet fosters loneliness: Those who spend most time on Internet and e-communication are among the loneliest people in our society

                   ii.      Internet when used at home displace social contact:

                            (1)    “More time spent on internet at home, less time spent with friends, family and social activities”

         e.      Cuts threads of community

                   i.       Don’t need to get together with friends as internet engages you

                   ii.      Recent research suggests internet users more social

3.      Importance of community

         a.      People need community

         b.      “Only effective power to limit consumption, pollution and degradation of nature”

                   i.       Why does he say this?

                   ii.      Caring about one’s community best strategy for env. protection? Community and responsibility tied

         c.      TV promotes these evils (e.g., overconsumption, pollution and nature destruction) while weakening communal ability to resist them

4.      Email and internet not created community, but rather pseudocommunities (=PS)

         a.      Facebook and twitter not true but pseudocommunities

5.      Pseudocommunities (=PS) = assemblages of electronically linked people

         a.      Substitutes for real communities (which are gone or going)

         b.      Make people feel good again

         c.      Replace passivity of TV with semblance of activity, creativity and choice

         d.      Undermining true neighborly, communal responsibility

         e.      PS are thin, transient, and unsatisfying

                   i.       Fun to play electronic games simultaneously with hundreds of partners in several dozen countries (e.g., World of Warcraft)

                   ii.      This fun does not sustain but the shallowest of existences

                   iii.     Loss of real human contact

                   iv.     PS seductive, but most will rediscover face to face friends and coworkers are superior to virtual ones

6.      Electronically simulated phone operators

         a.      Get us accustom to dealing with facsimiles of people in our daily lives

         b.      Reality is being replaced with virtual reality

         c.      This is bad, even if efficient (which it isn’t)

7.      There is more to life than maximizing efficiency of daily transactions

         a.      Efficiency of daily life enhanced at expense of community

8.      Value of face-to-face human interactions

         a.      Daily transactions between real people are one of the things that make life worth living

         b.      Consider:

                   i.       Electronic bank machines as opposed to tellers

                   ii.      Electronic gas stations as opposed people who pump your gas or at least people you pay

                   iii.     Does one want to have subtle, complex and rich interactions when filling ones car with gas or getting money?

                            (1)    Maybe we should?

9.      Real communities have an incredible subtlety and wealth of interactions

         a.      PS can’t duplicate their complexity or richness

         b.      Why not? Adding video? Why isn’t sight and sound good enough? Is smell, touch important to interpersonal communication?

10.    Almost every advance in tech brings more social disintegration

11.    For example, interactive video communication (e.g., Skype, face time)

         a.      At least with the telephone, the disembodied voice was a constant reminder that this communication is between people who are actually–perhaps distressingly–distant from one another

         b.      Like a letter, call received in private from someone elsewhere

         c.      Add picture and sense of privacy and distance are disturbed

         d.      Replaced by illusion of proximity, a mockery of context

         e.      A step on road to PS

         f.       Consider: Would people live so far apart if they did not have e-communication?

                   i.       If not, it enhances separation of family and friends

12.    Internet and email are dangerous to community

13.    Internet fosters a false sense of being part of a community of people working together for common good

         a.      But people hooked up on internet live in different landscapes, have different env. problems, their cultures are different

                   i.       And so can’t form true community? Why?

         b.      While creating the “global community,” you will have been neglecting your neighbors

14.    No such thing as a “global community” (it is an oxymoron = a conjunction of contradictory words)

         a.      All community is local?

15.    Real community requires a measure of separation of one community from another, and personal boundaries that add strength and diversity to communities

         a.      Internet is making this harder and harder

         b.      Interesting and confusing

                   i.       Why would genuine community require separation and personal boundaries?

                   ii.      I suppose if there is no boundary between people there is nothing to bring together into community?

16.    E-communication leads to unreflective and poor judgment and valuations

         a.      Unreflective things can and will be said and responded to

                   i.       Unlike when writing a letter

         b.      In a proper, durable relationship many thoughts, after careful reflection, should be left unsaid

         c.      Careful reflection takes time and often privacy and we have stupidly got rid of these

         d.      If going to make valid judgments about things and people, must have information from all senses (and this can’t be conveyed in words or images on a monitor)

         e.      E.g., Electronically formed love affairs often fall apart once meet face to face

         f.       Consider the kinds of things people say via email interactions “flaming”

         g.      An implication: When communicating with people one is not face to face with--and so unable to get wealth and intricacies of social cues from the physical interaction-- one should slow down and be especially careful with what one says

         h.      Mistake to hire someone without meeting them in person

                   i.       But e-communication may be useful way to narrow down list

17.    Ehrenfeld thinks there are important positive values to the internet

         a.      Internet suppose to be liberating force, and in some ways it is

         b.      Harder for repressive governments/powerful interest to hide news that goes against their interests

         c.      For infirm and handicapped, e-communication provides a life saving source of human contact

         d.      For anyone, the judicious use of internet is a wonderful and quick source of information

                   i.       *Don’t confuse the value of Internet for providing information with its value as a substitute for community

Questions on Ehrenfeld, Pseudocommunities


What are three distinct negative effects Ehrenfeld identifies that have resulted from the television culture and rise of e-communication?

2.         Give some examples of what Ehrenfeld calls “pseudocommunities” and explain why he labels them with this term.

3.         Using examples, explain the tradeoff between efficiency of daily life and community.

4.         Explain Ehrenfeld’s assessment of electronic communication. Do you agree with him?

5.         Why does he think e-communication is a threat to community?

6.         Is e-communication typically unreflective compared with other types of communication?

7.         Explain Ehrenfeld’s idea that the internet fosters loneliness.

8.         What are some of the positive values Ehrenfeld sees in the internet?