Lanza’s former classmates and friends of his mother — whom he killed in her bed before embarking on the school massacre — have offered tantalizing clues. Lanza might have had Asperger syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He excelled at computers, putting them together and taking them apart. He played video games in his basement. He read a lot.
I was one of many reporters who descended on Newtown, Conn., after the tragedy. For several days, journalists tripped over one another at local video game stores, computer repair shops, a comic book store — just about any place where Lanza might have, perhaps should have, been known. But nobody knew him. Nobody had even seen him. Lanza was just a picture on the news. Even in life, he had been a ghost.
The only person who recalled dealing with him was the town hairstylist, who had trimmed Lanza’s hair. Think about that: Except for using the bathroom and eating his meals, getting a haircut was just about the only thing Lanza couldn’t do online. 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.
Police have yet to give a full report on Lanza and the shootings. There is more to be learned, more lessons to be drawn, more proposals that will be delivered beyond the ones Obama issued Wednesday, which include an assault-weapons ban and expanded background checks before gun purchases. But this case should also force us to confront yet again the ways in which ever more of our lives are lived on a screen, in the cloud, via our computers and phones and tablets, and soon, if Google has its way, through our glasses. Our lives are becoming more transmitted than lived.
I come to this not as a Luddite but as a gadget-obsessed freak who stands in line on Apple’s product-release days. Yet I see in my life the ways technology enables us to live alone together, connecting less with the breathing humans around us and more with data and digital humans on a screen. “Alone Together” is the title of a searing book published in 2011by 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.”