My expression of this topic originally emerged though an entirely unrelated post, one that I began writing a few weeks ago, prior to the new year. In readiness for 2016, I had put some hours aside to reorganise files on my laptop, to engage in the act of decluttering as a way of stimulating a freshness of mind for the new year. It was intended as a lithe and relaxed post, to muse upon the day and task at hand in no more detail than how I was feeling in the moment, perhaps with a few links to music that was befitting for the mood. True to personal form, though, this unassuming act soon spiralled into a stream of consciousness about technology and my considersations about it, giving rapid and unrestrained motion to thoughts that are not far from my mind on any other day. As, by the point I had reviewed what I had written, the post had strayed quite far from its original motivation, I decided that it would not be right to publish, especially in its state of incompletion, so I set upon dedicating time and thought to the matter that had materialised. And, so, here is the post to reflect that.
For some light on how this subject came about, I invite you to share in my thought process on that day. I am not somebody who gets their laptop out very often, as wonderfully salacious as that sounds, the reason being because it is dreadfully outdated in modern terms- because of this, being the more recent item of the two, my phone now fulfills, as much as it can, many of the things that I would have once needed my laptop to do. Having come to me in 2007 as a brand new product, I have loved and looked after it as I do everything I own, however, in spite of this care, its programs and applications have been degrading internally since that time, meaning that my once sprite and lively little computer has now become increasingly slow and sluggish, indicating not only its technological age, but, more resonantly to me, the reasons why this deterioration has happened. No matter how much you look after an item, never misusing or overloading it with files or information of any description, being careful about how you handle it because you are always aware of its value, in terms that both include and exceed money, when those who make the updates to the programs stop doing so, there is very little you can do without a limitless income to safeguard its functionality, particularly when it seems increasingly apparent that new technologies are deliberately being made less robust and enduring so people have no choice but to upgrade or go without them when they reach the end of their lifetime and, they will often tire out before that. In my mind, there is a figurative and certainly pun-like comparison to be drawn between animals bred in battery farms and technologies created with intentionally short life spans, which I will simply lay out here and allow you to weave into something cohesive. Back to the fugitive nature of our technology, the more I watch my laptop’s browser be rejected by numerous websites, its attempts to connect and engage rebuffed like a social pariah, the more I am urged to decipher why, in a world where advances in technology are advertised as ways of facilitating the tasks and uniting people in our life, why it appears evermore blindly apparent that they are actually being used to separate people in a seeming act of Darwinism for the digital age.
I must assert that I am in no way ungrateful for the technology now available to us and what it allows me, personally, and others to do. I don’t need to elaborate on the medium through which I express so many of my thoughts to you, this blog, existing purely through this technology and allowing me to access the World, not to mention how this technology has elevated, in part, the way we communicate with and reach one another and, how it has allowed us to keep in contact with and updated on the lives of people who would have otherwise disappeared into obscurity were it not for the various sites we have our names signed up to. However, in relation to the latter part, is having constant access to these details necessarily a good thing? The compulsion to both upload and seek out uploaded information, I think, has been aggravated prodigiously by the capacity of the internet and the apparent lack of physical filtering or personal censorship that has resulted from this. The ubiquitousness of unstable and obsessive behaviours in the online world, such as seeking out people with who a relationship no longer exists and cyber-stalking individuals who may have had a negative impact on your life, or vice versa, or even complete strangers, for example, are all indicative of a sense of psychological restlessness and modern disquietude with silence, a sort of hyperbolic voyeurism, for which I believe the electronic world is severely culpable. Behaviours which, in the real world, would, proportionally, land a person in jail or elsewhere seem to entirely slip under the radar as there is no tangible way of knowing, on a common level, who has done what to whom or, indeed, who knows certain details about you, without seeming like a dangerously paranoid and untrusting person. Were it not for the amount of personal information available, albeit made so by people thinking that they need to inform everyone about every waking and immersive detail of their life, I believe that, even with natural dispositions, responses and traumatic reasons for mental illness, for example, I do believe that we would be more stable as a domestic and global society, if we weren’t so wired or alert or on-edge all the time. Even with all of the former and conceiveable positives gathered, I still can’t help but fervently consider whether being so plugged-in all the time is actually for our benefit and, I can’t emphatically defend that it is.
It is neither an unusual nor specifically modern phenomenon that vessels such as magazines, tv and movies, to name but a few examples, are used to advertise to us aspirational ways of life- which car you must have, which house you must buy or, indeed, which new electronic device you need in your life to portray a certain image about your personal wealth, character and status. It is not solely the acquirement of these items, however, that is indicative of your ‘progression’ in the digital age, but rather the element of how connected these items are to each other that now seems to dictate whether or not you are a part of the modern World and, therefore, how much you are accepted as an individual into it. The rise of ‘smart’ technologies, particularly the rate of their coming into being in recent years, has aimed to link every aspect of a person’s life through electronics, whether it is through a recreational interest such as photography, or to the extreme of household appliances that can now be operated and synchronised to one another without a physical presence or real interaction with them. Where there were once normalities of people manually inputting data into machines in order to make them work, it is starkly noticeable that these devices and machines are, more and more now, seemingly operating us, but under the illusion that were are still the ones in control and, that these objects are actually making our lives ‘easier’ to live. It is a question, first of all, of how you quantify ‘easy’ which, in this case, is pitched to be synonymous with ‘convenience’, but is it really more convenient and simple keeping on track of endless passwords, programming, inputting of data into various devices and the countless links and accounts you have set up, very rarely having to discern anything for yourself and trust that something that you cannot see, that is, for all intents and purposes, invisible to you is going to take care of things for you, without having use the senses or abilities you were born with to do so? I am not denying the power and importance of the advances in technology where they tangibly make a positive and impactful difference to people’s lives- their use in healthcare and surgery, for example, and how using the internet as a platform for expression enables empowered and uncompromised creation and artisic capability- but these are not my arguments here. It is not a case of paranoia or sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but it takes little more than a quiet consideration in the mind to deduce that tasks that were once completely manual are now overwhelmingly dictated by electronics and the notion that any distinctly human activity cannot be performed without their assistance or intervention and, furthermore, that these tasks are not being completed correctly in the way that they ‘should’ be done if you are not consistently switched on and plugged into them. It is not only the aspirational side that plays into the fairly feeble human desire of wanting to be ‘the best’ at whatever that may entail, but that you must go to whatever strides and lengths that you can in the attempts to achieve, or virtually fabricate what, frankly, is a majorly unattainable and unsustainable lifestyle. I am very well aware that these technologies do not exist or function on their own and are made by human beings in realisation of a specific purpose and vision, but where these items are being made so that they can operate in spite of our own interactions, this is a thing that greatly concerns me and, more often than not in these terms, these devices are made to the end of selling a product by manipulating and exploiting our convictions which, in my opinion, should intrinsically concern us all.
One of the most poignant and, to me, most interesting examples of these infringements upon the natural human experience is the effect of social media on our interactions as people and its impact on our own self-image and perception of others we encounter. In continuation of what can only ever be the pursuit of an aspirational lifestyle, the number of social media sites that you are assigned to appears to be the way that we now quantify one another in our capabilities and ambitions as individuals, regardless of whether the image put across of a person online is truthful or holds up in practice or not. This does not only pertain to the visual image that people choose to convey or accept of themselves and others, but the descriptive image that is created to, effectively, summarise their life, or rather, what they want others to see of their life in accordance with the image they wish to put forward online. In terms of existing as a person born onto planet Earth, unless you are represented on various social platforms relating to your professional, personal and recreational ‘self’, for example, you may as well cease to be in the real world unless you can validate and verify your existence online. This fragmented presentation may not only be far removed from how a person realistically lives and interacts with others, but may also be entirely fabricated to put forward an image, as I have mentioned before, that a person wants people en masse to believe and, when you are doing that through a platform that allows you to instantaneously reach millions of people in the World, how exactly can you discern whether the image projected before you is the right one, without any physical reference contrary to the information you have? This point is one that highlights exactly how problematic it is to exist or determine anything for real online, especially when the information available is as assaulting in its frequency as it is conflicted.
The absence of physical limitations in the online world is a facet that, in theory, should set you free in terms of expression and personal ability. The invaluableness of having access to a resource that allows you to reach the World in unimaginable rapidity should expand your horizons and ambitions to want to affect positive change, to communicate elevated social consciousness for all of the knowledge we have within our reach and the augmented awareness we have for being able to attain it at any moment, for the purpose of making the Earth we live on, our Earth, a harmonious place for all life in unanimity. I still find it mind-blowingly astounding that the fruition of the Arab Spring was orchestrated in great part by the use of social media to circumvent censorship and use the velocity of the internet to organise revolution within the related places, however, it is exactly this feature of an unlimited social reach that is used, more conspicuously by a shocking cumulation of people, as a means of ruthless self-promotion, most often by bringing other people down. It is a veritable razor-laden see-saw, in that those who wish to project themselves as messiahs of whichever industry to which their allegiance belongs cannot do so without sullying the image of other people, so often people that they have never met and possibly never will and, those who do have something constructive and thoughtful to say, or those who say anything, are stamped down by those who exist only as online ‘trolls’, to seek attention through inflicting misery upon those they, again, have never met and will probably never know. But why is this such a big problem online when the nature of certain humans has possibly always been this way? The flagrant lack of consequence in the online world is what allows for brutality of this kind, of shedding your otherwise human form to reveal the unrestrained monsters inside and unleash them without fear of consequence. With regards to an earlier point I made, even with attempts to regulate behaviour online, when the technology responsible for it is so intangible, volatile and can be wiped at any moment, how do you go about policing something that doesn’t really exist, even if the effects felt by those who have endured threatening language and abusive comportment are very real and penetrate deep into the consciousness? It is not even the most extreme, inconceivable thing that can be thrown at someone that can have a tangible effect, but the anonymity and lack of context in online interaction that has undoubtedly amplified the way people react to even the most benign thing that someone can say, as somebody is bound to be affected by it and become unable to switch it off in anticipation of the responses and their own response to that thought. This, collectively, brings me to my next point, which is the information made available on social media sites being responsible for exacerbating certain human behaviours, or creating a new wave of negative ones due, again, to the lack of consequence and anonymity presented to you online.
Prior to digital interaction, if you made a negative assertion towards someone or, indeed, received an unsavoury remark from a person, for example, the way in which the situation would unfold would depend on the actions of each party in one another’s presence. In other words, the progression of that situation would be consequential, depending on how both parties react, and you would have to deal with a potential escalation and outcome in its physical immediacy. While this still rings true outside of the online world, I do believe that the way we electronically interact with each other, the rise in online communication, has entirely affected the way we respond to each other in both conditions, both exacerbating existing tendencies and coaxing out ones that may not regularly be there. It is not uncommon to hear of people who have partaken in threats and online abuse supporting themselves when confronted about their actions in person, with some version of the argument of ‘I’m not normally like that/I wouldn’t do that in person’, which is flaccid, to say the least. Not only are these people often backed up by those that they know, but the perceivable consciousness of seemingly knowing what they were doing while ‘trolling’ online is as remarkable as it is terrifying, which urges the questions of whether there were elements or indicators of this behaviour within them anyway, whether this behaviour was instigated by the cloak of anonymity, the knowledge of the lack of consequence and the feeling of safety among like-minded aggressors, the aggravation of a pack mentality or whether, had they not been caught, would the ‘validity’ given through this to their persecutions of both strangers and acquaintances online have spurred them, with some kind of digital bloodlust, to carry out in person the same acts of physical violence that they had often threatened? The answer, in my view, is a sickening cocktail of all the above to varying and chilling degrees.
On the other side, the pressure created by having unrelenting access through the internet to an abundance of insurmountable information, more than is reasonably digestible in a human lifetime, more than lends its pixelated hand to the inception of new behaviours and the worsening of existing problems, especially where developing minds are concerned. It is no new headline that the prominence of image-related issues is an embedded truth of the digital generation, the undeniable correlation between the way we see ourselves being affected, once more, by the volume of information out there that can be accessed at any point and interpreted in incalculable ways. The appearance, again, of material aspiration, but this onslaught upon young and malleable minds, whether it is through product placement in music videos, the temperamental online activity of a reality tv star- the Kardashian-Jenner dynamic certainly comes to mind- or the unashamedly brazen boasting of wealth and visual desirability through ‘youtuber’ hauls and obnoxiously style-conscious videos, whether this pertains to themselves or their content aesthetic, all show that the avenues for comparison and consumption are relentless and far too much for anyone, let alone impressionable lives. What is frightening, to me, be they of primary or secondary school age, is the volume of young people who will now know how to present themselves as a product and a brand because of this assault of online marketing and there being no respite in the image that is constantly being sold to them in their online and collectively digital lives. It strikes me with alarming visibility that the prevalence of illnesses such as depression and anxiety-related complaints amongst young people and others today must, in part, derive from an incitement by this constant disease of ‘more’, never being satisfied with any state of being and continually being told that you are ‘not good enough’ creating a developmental crisis of self through the information, or rather, the misinformation that every conceivable person, whether you know them or not, is having a far better time and a more colourful, successful life than you (example: Instagram, to name but one). This may indeed be a bold link to make, but one that I’m sure not only I have made, but it bears a significant amount of consideration, especially when the truth in it is undeniable. The following is not the only reason for my seemingly militant vehemance towards this insidious breed of technology, but its apparence surely propels me forward in it. Having young cousins, a niece and nephews and, one day, having children who will not have known anything prior to this digital age in their lifetimes, it is vital to me for them and the well-being of their friends and contemporaries also that they are aware of life outside of the trappings of the blue light in their screens and, as they grow up, they do so as complete human beings aware of the colour and inspiration in tangible life and, that they do not become examples of a regressive generation that shunned the use of their in-built computers, the grey matter inside their heads and, instead, use their intrinsic deductions and sensibilities to reclaim their physical forms, without the assistance of gadgets and devices and articles telling them how to do so. In this vain, but without being narcissistic, self-promotional or competitive about it, I think we should do the same and get back to ourselves and take control of our nature and humanity, before it is too far gone to ever be recognised or regained.