"When I hear the word blog, I want to throw up," said a friend, as we sat at his table eating sumptuous prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes, washing it down with a dense, oaky shiraz.
Fortunately, the offending word did not induce him to purge on the spot, and for that we were thankful. But among the six of us at the table, his sentiment found some empathy. Many of us do feel overwhelmed and even repulsed by this virtual vomitorium of raw opinion and banter at our fingertips.
Twitter also came into our crosshairs. There is no real purpose or value in Twitter. It reduces communication to a barrage of truncated comments - fleeting thoughts pecked out on keyboards and spewed into the Ethernet like so much flotsam and jetsam. It's like garbage in the wind, candy wrappers fluttering across a schoolyard, scattering every which way before draining into a gutter of electronic oblivion.
In my opinion, online networking, in all its forms, has become a vast wasteland of self-obsession, of unrequited companionship, of time-consuming diversion and societal alienation.
I would go so far as to suggest it is unnatural even to be able to connect in this way to friends, family and total strangers every waking minute of the day. Perpetual connectivity leads to contempt and indifference. Context is filtered or even removed. Such parameters make it easy for deviants to prey on the innocent. But it must surely affect the quality of more amicable relationships, too.
Now, I do peruse blogs. I will occasionally post comments. This column could be construed as a weekly blog, particularly if you read it online.
But I have avoided social networking with studious resolve. I don't avoid it for the most commonly cited reasons: hucksters, predators and identity thieves, or the risk of humiliating myself through careless disclosure. I avoid it for more esthetic reasons. I'm simply not comfortable transferring my social life to cyberspace.
This weekend, I stumbled upon the perfect metaphor for all that is wrong with computer-based interaction.
It's called the virtual choir.
Nora Young, host of CBC Radio's technology show "Spark," aired an interview Sunday with American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre. Whitacre's choral compositions have become quite popular with choirs around the world, including here in Newfoundland.
Here's how his virtual choir works.
Whitacre posted a video online of himself conducting one of his own works - in this case, "Lux Aurumque" - with a simple piano accompaniment. Choristers were invited to obtain the sheet music and record themselves singing their individual part in front of a webcam, following his cues on screen and listening to the piano in earphones.
With technical assistance, Whitacre gathered the posted video responses and mixed the audio into an a cappella performance of his work. For extra effect, his producer created a video collage featuring Whitacre and his singers performing on a virtual stage. The immediate effect is quite striking.
You can see it here:
But you may find the initial impact gives way to a sense of sadness as you think about what this project really represents. In fact, Whitacres vocalists are the total antithesis of a choir. They are nothing but images of individual people, in their own dwellings, singing their own lonely parts to a piano in their heads. In the video collage, they look like Superman villains - imprisoned in two-dimensional panes of glass as they hover in space.
A choir, of course, consists of real people, people who sing together in physical proximity. One of them may pick up the aroma of another's hastily consumed lasagna, the whiff of armpits or forbidden cologne. They can wink or smile at each other, or whisper advice about this or that note. And when the conductor finally cues the opening strains, they are singing together, blending together as one.
A choir is not just a collection of soloists singing in isolation. It is a bonding experience. And the end result reflects it.
To hear the difference, check out Whitacre's live premiere of "Lux Aurumque" at
There, you'll see a real choir in full flight, weaving and ducking in formation like a flock of starlings. It is the ultimate in social networking, live and in Technicolor.
It may seem curmudgeonly to curse the prevalence of online interaction. It has, after all, opened new doors for people who can't otherwise connect in person for any variety of reasons.
But I think the medium is actually replacing true interaction in many lives. Alienation is the cause of so many troubles in society, from depression to crime to a lack of civic pride. Not to mention obesity and a lack of motivation.
It's difficult to predict where this phenomenon is headed. What I do know, however, is that an evening with roast beef, fine wine and good friends is infinitely more satisfying than a night perched in front of a video linkup.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted at email@example.com - or you can drop by in person and say hello.