WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2013 — One of the biggest and perhaps strangest stories capturing attention right now has nothing to do with guns, the debt ceiling, or whether President Obama needs some binders full of women.
It is about Manti Te’o.
Early last year, Manti Te’o, a linebacker and Heisman Trophy candidate from Notre Dame began dating a woman named Lennay Kekua. In September 2012, both his mother, Annette Santiago, and his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died. Upon hearing the news of the two deaths, Te’o went on to lead his Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a 20-3 win over Michigan State.
It turns out that not only had Lennay never died, but she never existed in the first place. An embarrassed Manti Te’o released a statement saying:
“We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life …”
This story is indicative of a larger societal problem—the degeneration of interpersonal relationships and the rise of insular communities.
Online social networking has become a substitute for face-to-face interactions. Why bother picking up the phone to call a friend or loved one when you can simply write on their Facebook wall or mention them in a tweet?
Everyone is addicted to their little gadgets – the iPads, laptops, and smartphones that are used for Instant Messenger, Facebook, and Twitter.
The benefits of online social networking are undeniable. It helps connect people with similar interests. Anyone with an internet access can get plugged in to the rest of the world. It makes information sharing easier. But, spreading misinformation is just as easy as spreading information. The next hoax is just another tweet, another Facebook comment away.
Beyond that, online social networking breeds insular communities that become polarized against each other. Liberals and conservatives restrict themselves to news outlets that reinforce their respective ideologies.
No one wants to get out of their comfort zone. Very few are willing to expose themselves to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Just as society has become more insular, so has the government.
Take a look at Washington. Ideological purity is now seen as a sign of loyalty.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are reluctant to stray from their sacred talking points. Members of Congress do not spend time with one another. Instead, they isolate themselves and retreat to their respective ideological corners.
Maybe Manti Te’o was a victim of a hoax, maybe he was not. One thing is clear, America is divided.
And a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Ayobami Olugbemiga is graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
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