I'm at something of a loss to know what to make of this Michael Rosenwald piece about Adam Lanza. Rosenwald was assigned to cover the Sandy Hook shooting, and was struck at how little-known Lanza was to people in the town.
All the things he apparently enjoyed were accessible to him without leaving his room. He could find community among gamers. He could order computer parts. He could buy books without ever visiting a bookstore. That he smashed his hard drive before the shooting spree was telling — a digital suicide preceding his physical one.
Rosenwald then pivots to Sherry Turkle's work:
Alone Together is the title of a searing book published in 2011 by Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who has studied our computing lives for more than two decades. “Our networked life,” she writes, “allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.”
When I called Turkle to talk about Lanza, her response was simple: “He’s my guy. These are my people.”
By that she meant someone who seems to have found “an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” she told me. Lanza didn’t need to trek out into his town because his community, from the hints we’ve gotten, was connected to a modem.
Turkle found the destruction of the hard drive particularly telling. “It was where he sought nurturance, but ultimately, it didn’t sustain him,” she said. “It’s not sustaining. It’s not life. It’s just not the same thing as life.”
Okay, leave aside the curious certainty packed into the quote-- maybe Turkle feels that she can diagnose Lanza at a distance, maybe we're missing something. The piece is weirdly self-contradictory. On one hand, Rosenwald writes, "nobody knew him. Nobody had even seen him. Lanza was just a picture on the news. Even in life, he had been a ghost." And yet we can know that video games and BBSes gave him the feeling of belonging but not the reality, and that when he realized it, everything went bad?
I get that the assumption is, he didn't have a life in the real world, therefore he must have had a life online; and therefore something must have happened in that online world to cause him to snap, but we'll never know, because he erased his tracks. But still, this feels to me like a version of the neuroplasticity fallacy I talked about earlier: a conclusion that feels sensible, but isn't.