Are we Turning the Internet Against Ourselves?
We’re creating a digital culture of alienation
The social contract is dead and it’s going to take a messiah to resurrect it. More than likely, they will strive for results over marketing, causing vast cognitive dissonance among many. Personal enrichment as a consequence of striving for the common good isn’t a new concept for most of the world but America struggles to grasp it.
Look, here’s a socialist secret: it’s a shortcut.
When we all join forces, change happens faster so everyone enjoys greater ease at the same time. When we share the work, it only takes a fraction of the time to complete the task, see. And because what feels good for us tends to feel good for others why wouldn’t we support social mobility for all if there’s a way to conjure it up?
Yes, but we’re Americans and we like to have a choice, we reply.
Fair enough. Equal opportunities doesn’t mean we have to take them, it means they’re available to anyone who wants them whenever they do so we can ditch the scarcity mindset once and for all.
But did you know pointing the finger could be more lucrative than waving and having a common enemy could win you instant friends aka attention? Much like fame, attention has become an end in itself; it doesn’t matter what you get the eyeballs for and how you get the eyeballs as long as you get the eyeballs.
Get. The. Eyeballs.
The words we write do not nourish our shared understanding of what it means to be a human in the world. The words we write do not promote openness, curiosity, and respect. Instead, the words we write point to the moral rot that has our society in a chokehold as we expound ad nauseam about healing and growing.
Get. The. Eyeballs.
People are sick, people are unremarkable, people are doomed, and life is unfair.
Get. The. Eyeballs.
Of course the human condition isn’t a pathology, not even when you have mental or physical illness diagnoses attached to your person but human disempowerment is a vast online market. And the internet is the favorite storefront of those who service it.
Get. The. Eyeballs.
Life, they posit, is a terminal illness but worry not, they can make life great again. For themselves. Did you for one moment believe you might be included?
The product wasn’t supposed to be sentient.
Forget about language as communication, it’s a weapon now and our survival depends on optimizing it.
“Après nous, le déluge” and so long, truth, it’s been real.
From mainstream media to bloggers, peddling outrage, humiliation, and shame is what we use the greatest tool we’ve ever had for. We’re the cat who prefers the shitty cardboard box to the spanking new cat tree, oblivious to the innumerable new vantage points it offers. Or indeed that there is life above the skirting boards. Not to mention access to nearby objects, like the bookcase, the TV, and the top cupboard where all the breakable stuff is kept.
Like human dignity. And love. And hope.
It’s so bad even honesty needs marketing now because at some point during our intellectual regression, it ceased to be self-evident.
As we consider our ever-changing reflection, the global digital mirror fascinates and repels us but we cannot look away. Deep down, we already suspect individualism for the collective doesn’t work but we don’t care. And we love nothing more than coming up with nonsensical constructs; some of them even endure through generations. But if self-partnership ever comes to enjoy the same widespread adoption as the self-made myth did, the human race will likely to extinct.
Impending dystopia echoes through our words, the words of those in office, the words we think and speak and write and read. And as long we get paid, it is so much easier to keep making noise to scramble the signal than to try and fine-tune the conversation or attempt to have one.
Anti-intellectualism is a thing; America quotes TV characters with the same fervor as philosophers and does not encourage reflection, only opinions. Thinking is no longer a basic human need but an elitist pursuit, the preserve of those who have the luxury to let their mind meander instead of staring at a screen.
There are many people calling themselves writers these days but how many ever think about what it means or entails beside typing on the internet?
Historically, parabolic storytelling systematically erasing others does very well in the US. We’re good at joining greeds and increasing the girth of the capitalist superorganism by any means necessary.
Selfishness is a consequence of human evolution, its proponents will argue, their every word an extra nail in the coffin of fellow feeling. If only it was all talk, we could just shrug it off and move on.
What we focus on in print has an unfortunate tendency to expand and take over. Even as users, we are de facto creators since our behavior impacts the development of platforms and ecosystems. We are the supply and we are the demand, a digital free market for data but not necessarily for information.
What we consume the most ends up being what gets produced the most, even if it’s hazardous to society and human evolution.
So what if we could align personal growth with collective growth to stop profiteers from destroying the internet?
And why, exactly, do we keep blaming the tool and those who make them for our inability to use it for service rather than self-servingly?
We now have access to a tool that can power evolution and revolutions but instead we further our own self-interest by being as obnoxiously entitled as we can. Even calling out culture has succumbed to greed as grabby people shame and bully brands on social media to wrangle free stuff. Complaining out loud on the off chance we might hit the jackpot with exposure and a free truckload of whatever has replaced having a quiet word. And no, the only thing standing between calling out culture and compensation culture isn’t principles.
Every interaction is a deal and those whose moral compass is up for rent aren’t shy about advertising their prices and their online blast radius.
If only we had the vehicle to write up a gentler way of being a human in the world across borders and spread ideas, what might we do with it? And if self-determination were the result of creativity, vision, and hard work instead of greed, could we create a more equitable society?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.