In my favourite novel Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut invents the religion of Bokononism – a faith exclusive to the people on the Caribbean island of San Lorenzo. As well as a number of practices such as semi-ecstatic ritual involving the touching of feet (‘boku-maru’), Vonnegut describes the idea of karass – A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident
When I met Thomas, I quickly got the feeling that he was part of my karass.
Throughout the remainder of Vonnegut’s career, this became a repeating ideal as he saw the explosion of the extended family as a considerable loss for society as a whole. In Slapstick: Or Lonesome No More!, Dr Wilbur Daffodil, King of Manhattan and US president, has declared a law whereby all US citizens must be given a new middle name. All people with the same middle name are then to become cousins who must look out for each other.
He returns to the idea in speeches and anthologies more and more passionately. I have been wondering what he would have made of the whole MyBook, YouFace, SpaceBebo phenomonen that has really only taken dramatic hold since Vonnegut’s recent death.
And the one thing that strikes me mostly strongly is our general willingness to be negative about the social change that is happening to us. To look for ways in which it exentuates existing negatives, is a threat to children and causes semi-addictive behaviour.
What technology is enabling, is for people to be present in each others lives more. What big cities, Margaret Thatcher, social mobility, geographic mobility, Norman Tebbit and our busy lives have set to tear apart; Facebook and its ilk puts back together. Is it socially dividing? Who cares? These are self selecting groups, not some New Labour attempt to make us all love each other. These are tensions that can bind some together and exist in our day-to-day lives.
But whilst not everyone will want to be in everyone else’s group or list of friends (as true online as offline) where our groups are broad and diverse, that will be amplified. No two users are likely to have precisely the same network, they will cross and extend each other. As Antony says, we’re hard-wired to enjoy sociability. I think it’s great. And I think Kurt would too.