Facebook as Spandrel

Facebook as Spandrel

 The roughly triangular space between the tops of two adjacent arches is called a spandrel.  Originating in Roman times, it was a nonfunctional result of the architecture until artists realized that they could fill these small areas with painted designs.  In a 1979 paper, Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould and geneticist Richard Lewontin applied the analogy of spandrels to accidents of evolution in the physical and behavioral features of organisms―features that evolve not as adaptive necessities but as byproducts that have no clear benefit for fitness and survival.  Gould noted that spandrels are most common in the human brain, producing secondary behaviors that may have occasional benefits but more often create conceptual confusion.  In an increasingly secular society, religion is often cited as a major manifestation.  But as one might expect, most examples are cultural trivia such as those now arising from the digital revolution, the most pointless emerging in the plethora of social media.  Facebook is perhaps the archetypal example of how a behavioral spandrel can divert one from the discovery and creativity gained from encounters with the real world, imprisoning the user in a virtual reality outside of space, time, and human contact, filling the void with narcissistic inanities.  In the end, the cancerous propagation of digital spandrels―Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, compulsive texting―rewire our brains, as neuroscientists have shown, to adapt to the fitful back and forth and knee-jerk leaps in all directions that the web and social media encourage, leaving us no longer capable of self-reflection, sustained attention, human empathy, or the kind of examined life that only solitude can engender.

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