Tuesday, March 25, 2014
On Social Media PART V: The Yin and The Yang Or The Fifth Limb and The Third Eye
So we come to the end...
I have spent the last month dissecting, analyzing, and qualifying the social media experience into four digestible blocks in order to evaluate its utility and place in the world. From conjecture to personal experience I have tried to present social media as a tool that can be used for good and a digital drug that can addict a person into complacency—at best it ignites revolutions and at worst it incapacitates. In my fifth and final installment, I would like to analyze one more aspect of social media that I think is overlooked before moving on to judgment— its medicinal value. By creating a digital space free of many of the constraints of the "real world", the Network has given a voice to some of the voiceless; access to people, places, and ideas otherwise inaccessible for those who are differently-abled; and removed many stumbling blocks of communication and learning for the otherwise challenged.
The Internet has facilitated a stupefyingly rapid shrinkage of the world. Destinations and cultures that are half a world away have been brought near with the click of a mouse and knowledge that was once reserved for the privileged is now quickly becoming accessible to even the financially poorest human with access. It has also created similar near-light speed-fast access to other humans.
People who once were far off are no longer incommunicado thanks to the Network. It used to be a great privilege to phone someone in another state, but now, voice and video services from Facebook to Google allow for instant calls and even video chats with people across the globe… for free. Communication has become so accessible that we don't even need a specific person to contact anymore; we even meet new people online.
Such instant access is a tremendous blessing for a lot of people. Physical travel between two places is a great impediment to some and impossible for others. These inhibitions make it less likely for some differently-abled folks to participate in certain realms, sometimes even in simple ways that we may take for granted like communicating at all. However, the Network shrinks this gap. Modern technology allows for a variety of ways to get ideas from the neural pathways to the electrical ones.
It may not be as instant as the (dys/u)topian Matrix that I described in PART I of this series (yet), but thought-to-type apparatuses are not science-fiction anymore; the hearing-impaired can read chat boxes in the same way a person with "normal" functioning ear drums; the mute can communicate their ideas with relative ease with folks who might not know sign language with a few clicks of the keyboard; and most importantly (IMO) when engaging online one would never know anyone with any of these or many other conditions is any different than themselves. Any assumption one makes of anyone else while in the Network comes from her or his own preconditioned biases. In the Network, our avatars are all created equal; anyone is free to share ideas, organize campaigns, entertain, and validate herself or himself just like anyone else with access.
If the great disease of humanity is hatred based on perceived difference, then the Network is its medicine, because we are all 1's and 0's in the digital world.
- - -
It has come time for my judgment.
I do not claim to speak for anyone else nor think that my opinion is deserving of any sort of special recognition or validation. I simply offer it as a thinker who has by the good grace of the Cosmos been blessed with the time, freedom, and access to ponder the nature of human character and Her creations. I have spent the past month pouring and musing over the question of whether social media and the digital Network that it is creating is a good or bad thing: Is it helpful or hurtful? Is it creating opportunity or destroying community? Is it igniting human creativity or suppressing it? Is the Great Democratizer or Big Brother?
When I began this series I thought I would have an answer to those questions. I honestly thought that I would unmask social media for the Soma-of-the-Brave-New-World-of-the-21st-Century that it is. However, in the time that I have spent ruminating on it in private and publicly here with you, I have realized the yin and the yang of social media; the blessings and the curses. Even now, as I write this, "Google Now" is being unveiled and lightning storms of new possibilities are striking in neural pathways and computer chips all over the world. Google is offering you and me an easier and more connected life, but it comes at a price— it wants our location at all times. It wants us to open our hearts, minds, wallets, and privacy and in return it will tell us how to destroy just enough space/time to maximize our enjoyment in life. It promises us heaven on Earth in return for our allegiance.
Like Andromeda and the Milky Way galaxies in a billion or so years, the “real world” and the Network are merging. Only at this scale they are merging at a quantum level. Every day we are faced with a choice of whether to sacrifice some of our "real world" and ourselves for an idealized representation of it and us online. The Network offers the potential to cure our ails; set us on equal footing with every other human; and enwrap us in digital ecstasy. Yet, it comes at a price: it may be our privacy; it may be our confidence; and it may be our soul.
Aristotle posited that the soul was simply the accumulation of one's habits. There is no denying the evolution of the matter: if we use social media as a tool then it has been become an inextricable fifth limb or third eye. However, for the one who seeks their validation or self-worth and posts (or reads) religiously out of a need for the "look at me" factor—for the dread of the anxiety of "real world" interaction—then I fear that the Network has become a purgatory for the soul.
In H.G. Wells’ famous work The Time Traveller, the protagonist travels to the year 802,701 where he encounters two groups of people. One of them—the Eloi (the Hebrew derivation of this word translates to "gods")—is a meek and peaceful people that sought out enlightenment and learning over the millennia. The other group—the Morlocks—lives underground and is a frightful and savage bunch that retreated below into the safety of the darkness. In 802,700 years social media and the Internet will have come and gone, however, I can see these two groups representing our futures.
Those who would seek out peace and learning will become more frail for the technologies they will create will replace human labor and allow us to focus more on the mysteries of the Cosmos. I do not foresee such creatures milling about their time in a digital daze; they will be busy evolving in the light.
However, I can also imagine a group who is committed so much to their savage nature that even with the advent of a no-work era retreat to an arena where their hatred and malice can still be poured out in safety—the darkness of an idealized and anonymous identity in the Network. Instead of pursuing knowledge and enlightenment they content themselves with the brutish lustful pleasures of the old ways. In the darkness, they evolve.
The Social Network is both a blessing and a curse. It has the potential to enlighten or devolve humanity. I think the difference between the two outcomes is our capacity to honestly ask why we are using social media the way we are, individually. The ubiquitous nature of the Network makes it impossible to avoid on 2014 Earth, but how we use it is up to us every time we log in.
May we use this tool for good and not evil in moderation and with good will toward all humanity in search of a higher calling for its power is great. Consequently, our responsibility is even greater. I pray that these five POSTs on social media have served and will continue to serve as a catalyst of thought so that you—the responsible human being—can further discern your own motivations and act accordingly. Much is at stake in the future of the Network. In the end, we will master it or it will master us.