Monday, April 20, 2009

The Twitterati

Every time we have the advent of a new communications technology, we have social critics who bemoan the fall of Western civilization. I think it would behoove us to be a bit more discriminating.

I’ll begin by drawing a broad distinction. There seem to be two types of people: people-people and thing-people. People-people are into other people while thing-people are into things.

For example, you can see this in some painters. Some painters like to paint people while other painters like to paint landscapes. Generally speaking, Renoir is a people-person while Monet is a thing-person.

You can see the same phenomenon in movies. Some directors are into character-driven drama while other directors use the plot as an excuse to photograph exotic locations or experiment with computer graphics.

Thing-people relate to nature. To natural beauty. They also relate to art and music.

People-people are often oblivious to natural beauty or artistic beauty. They could happen to be present when the most glorious sunset in the whole history of the world was unfolding before their eyes, and they’d be seated, with their back turned to the sunset, chatting away on their cellphone. It makes no difference to them whether they find themselves in a Wall-Mart, Santa Sophia, or the New Jerusalem.

Now, this distinction is not a criticism. There are tradeoffs between people-people and thing-people. Turner would make a poor father, friend, or husband. He’s never be around. He’d be off painting a Venetian sunset.

On the other hand, some thing-people wish to share their joys and pleasures with others. So even thing-people can be people-oriented to some degree. They discover something wonderful and then describe it to others so that other people can see it through their attentive eyes and thereby participate in their enjoyment.

Since this seems to go to a fundamental divide between different personality-types, there’s no point railing against one or the other. It’s hardwired.

However, there are two-types of people-people. Some people-people are outgoing. They care about other people. Are empathetic. The world is obviously a better place for having people-people of this sort.

But then there’s the egocentric people-person. This is paradoxical sort of person. He doesn’t relate to other people. Rather, other people exist to relate to him. In a way, he treats people in the same way he treats things.

He thinks a Redwood tree grew on that very spot so that he could take a picture of himself under the Redwood tree. He doesn’t stop for the tree. To study the tree. To admire the tree. No, he only stops to have his picture taken. The Redwood tree is just nice backdrop for his self-postcard.

Everything is a background for himself–including other people. If you transported him to the Last Supper, he’d ask the beloved disciple to hold his camera so that he could have his picture taken with Jesus.

Egocentric people-people never notice anything, or observe anything. For them, life is just a checklist.

There’s no point attacking people-people per se. We should at least distinguish between outgoing people-people and egocentric people-people. Egocentric people-people are shallow and blind. And some of the thing-people are no great improvement, either.

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