Second, mundane social interactions form the basis of community-formation, which is the key to subsequent social and political action. Communities have been eroded, not by the Internet, but by television which locks us into passive, isolated cubicles and bombards us with content, most of which is explicitly designed to encourage consumerism, passivity and superficiality; by suburbanization that isolates families from each other, from work, and from the world; and by the increasingly stressful and long work hours which leave very little time for anything else.
In this regard, the Internet is the greatest antidote to anti-communitarian forces. Frankly, I find even the most mindless lolcat sites on the Internet to be an improvement over canned-laughter-filled sitcoms. The point of lolcats is not the lolcats themselves, but to share them with friends, comment on them, make more of them, and enter the community via the joke. It's the community, not the cat, that matters. (If you doubt this, try selling a book of lolcats and see how well it does.) I write this review in the aftermath of an atrocity; the assassination attempt in Arizona on a Congresswoman that claimed the lives of six others including a child. Every Internet community I am part of is roiled and there is widespread discussion on most of them about the event. Fifteen years ago, we'd all be watching TV, not communicating with each other.
In November of 2009, a high-school classmate of mine posted a single cryptic Facebook status update indicating that he was spending too much time in the halls of a hospital, eating too much bad food. Many of us immediately inquired what was going on. My friend reluctantly admitted that his wife had developed a rare but potentially fatal disorder of the brain and had been in the hospital for weeks. He was trying to cope, with minimal help. (That's just his personality; kind and understated, he hates being a burden.) Help was organized with lighting speed, ranging from taking care of their two small kids to arranging for meal deliveries, from finding top specialists who could help the family navigate the medical maze (which matters greatly anywhere in the world but especially in Turkey, where my friend is) to an enormous outpouring of support and kind words. I saw a far-flung community coalesce and rise to the occasion. To our collective relief, she pulled through, a fact we all learned through a 23 second video on Facebook, recorded and posted on the day she came out of the coma by her elated husband.
I am fairly sure that this is a very common kind of example (see this Washington Post story for a similar one, unfortunately with a very sad ending). I am also certain that, without social media, it would have been next to impossible for such a large network to be activated. And, yes, before and after this crisis, most of my friend's postings were mundane, included a lot of Farmville, complaints and comments about the weather, and, yes, a lot of Youtube slapstick. (I had, of course, blocked all his Farmville updates.) And yes, this is not an example of political action but of strengthening of community.But to dismiss ordinary interactions of life as narcissism or meaningless is unwarranted, and misunderstands the fundamental functioning of community and the relationship between social communities and civic action.