THE BLOG
10/29/2014 12:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Facebook Void: What We're Missing

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Credit: Paul Scott

Circa 1860.

After the secession of the southern states, Abraham Lincoln signed into effect conceivably one of the most consequential pieces of legislation of the New World: The Homestead Act of 1862.

In times past, an agrarian nation with many pocket farms, by the rise of the Civil War, America had to reassess its space. Pressurized by a sea of European immigrants, the Land of Opportunities had to take down its floodgates, and open up doors to other parts of the country.

Between 1850 and 1900, the U.S. population surged from 23 million, to 76 million in just over a few decades. America had no choice but to expand.

Two-hundred and seventy million acres of the United States were claimed and settled under The Homestead Act of 1862. Farmers, new immigrants, old immigrants, single women, former slaves, all were welcomed, and encouraged to get their share of the "free land." With just an $18 filing fee, homesteaders could individually own 160-acre plots of land--as long as they lived on it, built a home on it, and farmed on it.

The notion: To transfer gargantuan amounts of public domain to hardworking citizens to build, construct, improve--and destroy.

From 1860 to 1910, America was at its peak of deforestation. Never before had so many trees been hashed, slashed, axed, deplumed, engraved, and cremated for firewood.

Tree after tree, acre after acre, state after state, American forests were being demolished to make way for fields, farms, houses, and homesteaded log-cabins.

Soon a sense of woeful, funereal solitude took over. Miles upon miles of never-ending grounds, the vast skys could be seen from all directions, with not one tree standing. Stumps after stumps of once towering edifices succumbed to now a panoramic wasteland of openness, emptiness, and jilting vacuity.

With all trees cut, America became heightless.

***

In 1885, the first skyscraper was pieced together.

"The Father of the Skyscraper" they call it. It was the Home Insurance Building of Chicago. With its meager height of 183 feet, Americans were enamored. Enthralled by such a soaring structure, they wanted more, and more.

Within the next few decades, one after the other, skyscrapers took root. New York World. Manhattan Life. Milwaukee City Hall. Park Row. Flatiron. Philadelphia City Hall. Singer. Metropolitan Life. Woolworth. Bank of Manhattan. Chrysler. The Empire State.

***

It was in 1991 the World Wide Web was unveiled to the public, thrusting the country into a digital hysteria now called the Dot-com Era. It was that year, in 1991, the Internet soon became as we know it.

At full throttle, this technology-crazed era engineered all types of newly assembled, freshly packaged digital forms of communication. These mass-produced systems of binary codes made it more, and more convenient for people to transmit, and receive information instantaneously.

E-mails and e-cards quickly replaced hand-written, tongue-sealed, finger-pressed letters.

AIM, Instant Messaging, and texts quickly replaced inflection, intonation, accentuation, modulation, timbre, pitch, and tone.

Webcams and Skype quickly replaced touching, feeling, body language, scents, kisses, micro-facial expressions, handshakes, and hugs.

If, at the height of isolation, we built skyscrapers: At the peak of loneliness, did we build social media?

This article would not have been possible without the help and support from Kathryn Fernholz, and Jeffrey Howe from Dovetail Partners; MacKenzie Rawcliffe, and Christine Cadigan from the American Forest Foundation; Char Miller from Pomona College; and Steven Anderson, and Cheryl Oakes from The Forest History Society.