Thoughts on Internet Isolation

On the Internet no one knows your a Turing machine.

Of course, the problem for two Turing machines conversing over the Internet is that neither can be truly certain that the other is the Turing machine it thinks it is.

Recently I had an on-line discussion with a few friends concerning the brand of isolation unique to the Internet and how that particular fashion of isolation was moving humanity.  I would like to expand and expound for your pleasure and torment my current view on the matter (borrowing liberally from my friends).

One friend (Mr BG) pointed out to us that

The internet [sic] has made you all artificial. I don’t know who any of you are.  Some of you I remember from days gone by but mostly I don’t know you and it saddens me as I’ve not been part of your journey.

To which another (EHS) responded that she

had similar thoughts a few days ago….  The internet [sic] keeps us connected but doesn’t get us any closer to actually knowing each other.

I think these are true enough observations.  We know less of one another if our only connection is virtual.  We know only our mutual advertisements.

Leading up to my graduation from the UW I met on-line and began a friendship with a woman living in Spain.  She was French and Spanish and this was great for me to practice both my French and Spanish (though we often conversed in English).  As the end of my student life loomed closer we decided I should take a visit and see a little corner of Spain.  We had more than a year of intimate if virtual interactions by this time.  Yet when I disembarked that bus in Valencia we were newly met strangers all over again.  We knew facts about the other person, but we didn’t really know the other person.

Given this background I was immediately able to understand when CB said

It all depends on how you use the connections you’ve made… look on the bright side.  When I saw Ellie in the craft store, I immediately knew her face… and her story….  When I’m able to set up meetings/lunches/dates with equally busy people via this tool, I feel HAPPY that it exists, even if some on here aren’t as transparent as others.

[E]ven if I never see you in real life because you live far away, I appreciate your opinions and your presense [sic] in my life.

PEOPLE make the internet aftificial [sic], not the other way around

Not that we can reduce the Internet to a two sentence summation, but it does facilitate superficiality in an extraordinary way.  Not to mention the raw power available when we employ anonymity effectively.  (Many believe they are acting anonymously or that they have somehow limited their identifications to a select circle and are totally wrong, but that is not exactly what we are discussing.)

If many fall into the trap of propagating superficiality we are certainly right to lament it.  We may also feel an obligation to rebel against it, to reach out to those with whom we might connect.

AH pointed out that it may well be that the Internet (or more specifically social media sites like Facebook) expose the inner workings of a person’s being, rather than that these sites allow or promote this type of behaviour.

Probably the truth is that social sites (and perhaps the Internet in general) do promote self-centric behaviour and also expose in greater detail the inner workings of a person’s being.  Of course the problem with this increased exposure is in what I said earlier about only actually exposing one’s advertisements of oneself.  The context of this advertisement is necessarily stripped away due to the superficial nature of interactions.

Let’s come back to that point though because next Nate swept in in support of a more radical point of view:

… Borg Telepathy, which I (right now) believe is the best, good, and Right goal for human communication we have this new (semi) unmediated mode of communication. somwehere between “On the internet, no one knows you’re a Dog” and “Oh (damn) I just posted something that I didn’t mean to…” [sic]

He also offered a link to a paper by Jean Baudrillard called The Ecstasy of Communication, which I include for your interest.  Baudrillard can be a challenge to read, but the rewards are great so stick with it.

I think the important part is that there is too much information on the Web and thus we must radically filter that in-stream (or die).  This leads to us missing very much of the substance and replacing it with a sizable quantity of superficial information.

Facebook is a great example here (like Google before it).  You can only see a random segment of what your friends are posting (due to time and other factors).  There are dozens or hundreds or thousands of posts slipping down your wall (right now!) which you must miss.  In spite of this those you do chance upon are often fully irrelevant to your interests and so you use the tools available (ever-changing, thanks to the developers) to sculpt your in-stream into something manageable (I am here reminded of Sisyphus).

AH accepted

that a lot of substance winds up mixed in with all of the white noise but I also don’t feel like a lot of substance or real sharing is put out there.  Needle in a haystack.  As Nate said in a different conversation, I think people for the most part hold back on FB because it’s a quasi public space with a diverse audience.  I’d probably make more dirty jokes if I wasn’t friends with my Great Aunt Daphne.

I have several times had people stomp on my balls because I dissented with some profound or inane notion they put forward.  The thing about the Internet that is key here is that if you post your opinion you are nearly guaranteed to run into opposition.

There is the whole concern (now) with employers (potential or otherwise) judging by random Internet yarns or foibles.  We have all this newfound freedom (for speech and expression), but we are socially prohibited from using it lest we suffer the consequences.

And finally we are reduced to making sound bites if we want to get anyone to pay any attention to what we say.  This is the final devolution of our personal advertisements, the diminutive dimension of our soul-marketing.

Try not to go “boo hoo” here, but on a scale of things no one visits my blogs or posts comments.  This is not meant as a lament but merely a statement of fact.  I monitor the various posts and pages using analytics so I know when something gets a lot of hits, but I have no dilusions about anything I do here suddenly going viral.  Sure I write a lot of either philosophical or creative pieces and don’t post any pr0n or cute kitten videos, but you get the point.

This idea led Aubrey to point out that there was no “point in commenting [on your blog] if nobody can see my brilliance on display… it’s outside the ecosystem”.  An excellent piece of humor but as with all humor it is necessarily tied to the truth.

Aubrey is a great example for this point because he recently did a project (which turned into a book) where he drew one drawing each day, based on one of his friends’ Facebook status, for 100 days.  Someone asked him afterwards “What do you mean you’ve been drawing statuses?”.  One drawing (image) posted to his wall per day, each receiving many comments from his circle of friends (especially the person tagged because it was their status he drew from) for one hundred days, and yet in spite of all of that posting someone (a “pretty good friend”) still missed the whole thing.

(The book is called One Hundred Days Later, as was the project, and since it’s available for sale on the Internet it is likely that there exists someone who owns it who doesn’t know Aubrey and someone who is close friends with him who knows nothing about it.  You can buy it here.  Be famous.)

This makes perfect sense to me.  The Internet, social media sites, and especially Facebook are very much in the now.  Each post and page is tossed into a torrential river turbid and frothing.  If you miss 99.9% of what passes near you in this enormous waterway it’s no surprise (or shouldn’t be).

For what it’s worth.  Fight the good fight.


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