Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Textual Analysis: Profanation of Our Joys (Living in a Post-Facebook Culture)

Continuing in my series about how technology has made the metaphysical become physical, I'm analyzing the first few stanzas of John Donne's poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", and comparing the relationship he has with his wife to relationships in a "post-Facebook" society.

S virtuous men pass mildly away,  
    And whisper to their souls to go,  
Whilst some of their sad friends do say, 
    "Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."                     
So let us melt, and make no noise,                                       
    No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move; 
'Twere profanation of our joys  
    To tell the laity our love. 
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears; 
Men reckon what it did, and meant:
But trepidation of the spheres;
Though greater far, is innocent"

The interpretation of this is that Donne believed it would discount the deepness of his relationship with his wife if they were overly public or obvious about their sadness in being separated physically.  Because their love was so strong, spiritual, and transcendent in nature, he believed that it would be a "profanation" and a debasement to allow it to to be open to public scrutiny.

It's probably safe to say, then, that Donne would be harshly critical of the couple that changes their relationship status weekly or resolves their arguments on the public forum of Facebook.  And how would he feel about the couple that is constantly texting-even when they're with each other? (My friend Neal linked me to a great/shocking example of this in a comment on an earlier post of mine.)

The unfortunate fact is that these couples are becoming the norm in our society.  This is because technology has created a huge cultural shift in what is acceptable and what is normal to broadcast to the public.  Our culture has become preoccupied with self-disclosure, especially online.  This has been explored in multiple studies, including this one by the Open University, and what's surprising is that most of them are finding that self-disclosure is good for us.  An article in the New York Times entitled "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy" says, "It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves."

So, although John Donne saw the act of being constantly public about your behavior as a negative thing, technological advances have shown that it is good for us.  A little bit of self-disclosure (couples disclosure?) can make us happier and more aware in our relationships.  Of course, the couples that give a little TMI on the WWW are missing the point, and in the "Valediction" would be the "laity".  But the couple that effectively uses their social network and the new media tools available to them to enhance their emotional bond have the capacity to transcend physical distance and other obstacles to become as deeply connected as John Donne was with his wife.  And there is nothing profane about that.      


Becca "The Rock Star" Hay said...

Amanda! I really liked this post! Great job posting the poem, interpreting, bringing in the digital age, comparing and then making your point! I agree with you, that we can get to know ourselves better through little status updates, but I think Dunne's point is well taken too. Is it particularly good for the *relationship*? There's a difference between what's good for "me" and what's good for "us"...this article talks about marriage and the damage the digital society has caused to that intimate relationship
I'm not saying it's all bad because it's not! But just because something is good for one person doesn't mean it's good for two. An analogy could be, if one partner in a relationship ate whole wheat bread every day that would be great for them personally, however it would only benefit that one person, and the benefit to the other partner would only come in the form of the one partner, not the two together. Does that make sense?

Chris said...

Have you noticed the phenomenon of couples sharing facebook accounts (eg. a screenname like "JeffandCindy Nelson")? I think it's kind of silly, but I guess that is an example how people would make their relationship less on display and at the same time more open with each other. <-- Here's an article about how couples do this for the sake of fidelity, but it might give you some ideas about digital privacy and relationships.

Stacie said...

This post was really good Amanda! That article about that married couple was actually really amusing to me. Especially how ironic it was that they texted the wife that they disagreed with her being on her phone all the time!

It is very true that talking about our personal lives online has become very common, but we have to be very careful that we do not become like that couple. I was once in a relationship where the guy would never talk to me, he would only text me. Even if we were sitting right next to each other. I would have to force him to communicate with me through actual talking and it wasn't healthy for either one of us. There is a balance to the digital world that I believe is becoming more and more thin today.

I shared this article with another one of our classmates but I think that it would go well this post of yours.

We need to re-create the line of what is acceptable to post online for the world to see or else we risk it disappearing for good.