Thursday, November 7, 2013

La Rochefoucauld,and Social Media

In looking into La Rochefoucauld, I noticed maxim 268, which the Gutenberg Project's version gives as:
We credit judges with the meanest motives, and yet we desire our reputation and fame should depend upon the judgment of men, who are all, either from their jealousy or pre-occupation or want of intelligence,opposed to us--and yet 'tis only to make these men decide in our favour that we peril in so many ways both our peace and our life.
(The first clause is probably better rendered "We recuse judges for the smallest biases".) This sounded not unlike the way social media can work, even before I read a piece in the New York Times on a college course on the topic, which included the sentences
A small but growing body of evidence suggests that excessive social media use can lead to an unhealthy fixation on how one is perceived and an obsessive competitiveness. Perhaps not surprisingly, this angsting can also lead to an unhealthy quest for perfection, a social perfection, which breeds an aperture-narrowing conformity.
(Is the angstrom the proper unit of measure for angsting? And doesn't "angsting" look as if it should be at least cousin to "agenbyte"?)

 One of the characteristics one notices immediately on looking in the Maxims is their brevity. A slopped-together script shows that about 70% of the maxims (in French) are 140 characters long or shorter, ergo suitable for sending over Twitter. Clearly, La Rochefoucauld was a man ahead of his time.


  1. What is 'excessive'? How is 'unhealthy' defined - presumably mental, rather than physical effects are in play? (and what is 'agenbyte'?) I heard a man maundering away the other day on the radio about how children are not playing with others but absorbed unhealthily by a screen and not going outside but absorbed unhealthily by a screen. While I see his point, I kept thinking, 'What if you replaced the word 'screeen' with the word 'book'? My brother and I would both have been considered to have 'an unhealthy fixation' with books and our local library in our childhood. I'm glad no-one noticed at the time.

    1. The writer referred to mental effects, yes; his or others' definition of excessive I didn't see. But he wasn't thinking of his students failing to get enough sunshine and air, so much as their increasing dependence on their on-line images, as perceived by their peers.

      The phrase "agenbyte of inwit", which occurs repeatedly in the earlier pages of Ulysses, means "remorse of conscience".