That’s been the path for online life, too: What was once its own strange and performative place is becoming, ever more, our window onto the national culture. But given the wild outpouring of praise online, one has to wonder how much of what you see is just a public put-on. “OMG your Cartagena vacation looks AMAZING!!!”: Is this an expression of envy, interest, or a desire to have me shut up about it? The distance between earnestness and disingenuousness is vanishingly small, and—more alarming still—seems to matter less and less.
If anything, these days, we risk regarding the web as too much of a cultural mirror or, at least, a mirror pointed in the wrong direction: Good faith has become indistinguishable from good speech, and agreeable words risk outweighing the actions that push them toward fruition. In truth, crucial decisions are never quite as simple as an exclamation-filled post of support. We’ve just emerged from a bitter election season through which many of us moved forward fueled by like-minded applause, seeing only what we wished to see. Yet what comes next isn’t a cuddle; it’s a struggle. As Sandy reminds us, progress requires strain, discord, and difficult choices. Even the worthiest environmental initiatives come at a cost. Organics can leave a greater carbon footprint than canned food; local produce can cost jobs somewhere far away. Believing in something means being prepared to disagree about it—to fight over it. But who wants to give a thumbs-up to that?