Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Avatars, Cyborgs, and Intellectual Imposters

Social Media Disease #3

A Billion Neos?

In The Matrix, before he takes his waking pill Mr. Anderson assumes his known existence is real; that what he perceives as “he” is, in fact, him. Once so rudely extracted from his Duracell pod, however, Neo learns that he was in fact experiencing life inside a virtual reality; a digital projection of himself inside a computer simulated world: the Matrix. His entire existence was as a digital avatar; a rendition of of himself where everything, his hair, clothes, all of it, was a virtual manifestation how he wanted to appear in his world.

This isn’t far from the character hundreds of millions have created to represent themselves online. From OK Cupid to, of course, Facebook, our digital “brand” all too often has little connection to the physical existence; the flesh and blood human being securely encased, hidden, and safely protected from prying judgmental eyes inside the Pod of Reality.

That's the nature of the Internet. People are free to let their imagination and ego run free with little to no accountability. They believe they can freely “reinvent” themselves into whatever furry role playing character they like while keeping the real organism hidden behind the Virtual Veil where we can easily hide the flaws and deficiencies that make us vulnerable and generate self-consciousness. The Veil conceals what I once described as a vulnerable child, one terrified and trembling at the thought of being exposed to the world.

That naked child is the genuine human being. The core toward which authenticity drills. It resides within everyone of us and when he feels safe and secure enough––when no one else but maybe the cat can see––he'll occasionally come out to play. *Foreshadow Alert*

**Aborted Tangent—There seem to be at least two camps here. Traditionally, I’ve seen this core human being as something of a sympathetic figure; someone hidden out of fear. Freud, it appears, would strongly disagree. He called it the “id” and envisioned it as something to be tamed then caged and feared; human barbarism. The remnants of our days killing each other in the jungle. Eastern philosophy and Freud have two wildly different concepts of the ego. What I’ve been calling ego, Freud may define as the id and his description may be the more accurate version. From what little I’ve learned, his description sounds quite similar to something I have put a lot of thought into: the dark side of human duality. Something that ties directly into what follows below and something I’ll get to eventually. For now, I’m keeping my ego concept tethered to eastern philosophy. I may indeed change my mind and incorporate Freud’s id if and when I see fit. I’d apologize for the confusion, but you’re not paying me. Instead I’ll say, “try to keep up.”

So, the ego’s avatar takes over and does whatever he can to promote our chosen brand while keeping the core, the embarrassingly flawed human being, hidden. There are differing degrees to which people promote/conceal themselves, but it's universal. It's impossible to be completely authentic online because the nature of the medium and its landscape. Regardless of how closely you think your e-personality represents "you", when you're interacting online…particularly on social media…it's not "you". It's the sanitized version comprising the digital rendition you've created for yourself. When you go online, you do so with the"you" you want everyone to see.

**Snarky Disinfectant Spray—Feeling a twinge of self-righteous outrage triggering the overwhelming urge to hit me with some “truth”? That’s your ego's proximity alarm; someone getting uncomfortable close to your secret, fucko. Comments are off. That should really send your little Neo into a hissyfit! Here. Let me be proactive. I'll look into my crystal ball, hear your flaming rage, and post my reply in something you, and your fitting digital character will be familiar with and comprehend. A sarcastic meme.  Two syllables max! #ToddzillaTheMerciful 

People have been trying to"reinvent" themselves online from the beginning. But it's a simple cheap deception; an exercise and playing dress-up and taking the costumed "you" out to promenade around the public square. In other cases, it's putting on a scary mask so you can verbally assault whomever you see fit.

In fact, we have only one “self”; a complete reinvention is impossible. The best anyone's ever done is becoming a much improved version of themselves, who they are, even the most dramatic cases. Traditionally, most well-adjusted people eventually figure this out and stop trying to be "someone else". The Internet has worked to obliterate the practice of self-acceptance while at the same time elevating faked displays of self-assured “confidence” to absurd, never before seen levels of thespian fuckery! Some worthy of an Oscar nomination! But, of course it has! As you spend more of your life acting as your avatar it becomes clear that it's infinitely easier to simply enhance, promote, and defend the digital deception than it is to experience the pain of actually upgrading the fleshed model, which often sits ignored as a result. **Insert Internet-Based Psychological Maladies Here**

Intellectual Imposters

Where once we fully understood and recognized when we were lifting, editing, and ostentatiously decorating our "thoughts" before presenting them to others in order to trick them into believing we were smarter and more articulate, at some point it became habit and many began believing their own bullshit! Once upon a time, we consciously knew we were deceiving someone when we Googled random facts during a virtual conversation then presented them as our own hard earned “knowledge" and wisdom. Now many people actually believe they’re really as "smart" as their Google search! Plato had no concept of virtual connectivity when he wrote about Thamus and the illusion of wisdom. The Internet has taken that concept and blown it to the heliosphere. It’s is the most powerful informational tool mankind has ever devised, but rather than “enlightening” the species with access to knowledge, it’s fallen into the hands of millions of intellectual imposters each taking disjointed pieces of data (skipping the next step—knowledge—by ignorantly confusing the two) and cleverly presenting their cherry-picked fragments of random, often questionable, pieces of information as “wisdom” without actually having a slightest clue about what the fuck they’re babbling about.

Of course you know that this permeates everything online and, increasingly, the world. It’s the curse of thoughtless opinions; people offering “truth bombs” comprised of whatever disconnected data loaf manages to float to the top of their septic tank mind at that moment. It’s typically easy to tell who’s never actually thought about the very thing they presume to speak so authoritatively about! They read a part of a paragraph in an article somewhere so, yeah. Instant expert! On everything.  If that’s you? Go away. And shut the fuck up. Not necessarily in that order.

“Click, skim, bounce". This is what nearly all of our self-proclaimed internet scholars consider "doing their research". It's embodied in an old website that summed up Grapes of Wrath like this: "Times are hard. Sister breastfeeding homeless guy. I'm SO outta here" and led a few million virtual chimps to believe they were now Steinbeck aficionados; that they were suddenly literary authorities and their newly democratized virtual "opinions" were just as valid (after 6-seconds of "reading") as everyone else who, you know, actually read the entire fucking book. Ask these babbling avatars what, exactly, they got from Connie. Or Lizbeth. If you do so when their “smart” phone’s out of reach it should be an indecipherable hoot and a derptastic holler! Maybe you'll strike gold, as I have several times, and be able to paste their retort into Google and trace the exact source from whom they lifted their "knowledgeable" reply! I’ve done this so many times that it’s impossible to count. It used to be fun to retort with the URL. Not anymore. It’s depressing.

Politics, science, theology: apply at will. And the lust for shallow horizontal data has been monetarily weaponized. It sells. Why? Because people are eager to appear wise while being freed from the burden; the work; of being wise. Why again? It’s simple and, taken from a higher perspective, ominous: it’s only the avatar's graphically designed costume that matters, especially on the massive pseudo politics-to-power marketplace. It’s better to appear right than be right. It’s better to appear wise than be wise.  Don’t believe me? ”Do your research!"

I’ve been screaming into the cacophony of nothing about Thamus for a decade. Once this constapating log is pinched, I’m moving to more selfishly productive things. But I hope someone takes over and turns that shit up to eleven.

Abandoning Accountability

I first noticed much of this long before social media. It was in the comment sections where egocentric avatar warfare and its astoundingly blatant and naked virtual ignorance first made itself apparent. I asked a former friend who’d become a psychiatrist if people were actually that stupid; had I given humans too much credit? He answered that the people who posted to comment sections were, but not people in general. This was shortly before Facebook arrived and, in my mind, and to a degree, proved him wrong. People online, protected by the unaccountable and anonymous avatar, become faces in the mob. They take on a mob mentality and mobs are categorically stupid. In short, yes. Far beyond the confines of comment sections, digitized human beings are, quite often, really that stupid.

I can't prove it, but I suspect Zuckerberg got his idea for Facebook from reading those old comment sections!
“What if everyone had a way to generate their own personal and unlimited comment sections? And what if they could comment on everyone else's at the same time! Yes! ButtPirate69 and JohnKerrySuxCox79 have shown me the light! Eureka! This is most certainly how we can bring the world together!" 
The world’s been “brought together” all right. I don’t recognize what tune these drunken mobs are slurring, but it sure isn’t kumbaya.

These distorted versions of ourselves have freed us from almost all first-person accountability for the ego-orgy in which we engage. There was a time not so long ago, in a universe not that far away, when calling a random person even watered down fractions of what's hurled around online meant you’d find yourself bleeding from the lip and probably tossed out of whatever establishment the two of you shared. There was a sense of personal decorum. An idea of when, where, and to whom it was appropriate to spew you gospel. Not anymore. Quite often online "comments" and Facebook threads degenerate into virtual bar fights where everyone chooses sides and gleefully clubs the random “other” with verbal beer bottles and pool cues. Because of this abandonment of any sense of accountability, or even simple decency,  discourse—even polite conversation—usually consists of people who, instead of listening, are simply waiting to inflict their ‘opinions”; their "posts" onto one another.


I not only saw this firsthand in Phoenix last year, but later on in the trip when I encountered a fully erect Facebook-fueled cyborg at an Iowa truck stop shortly before thumbing my last ride. It was only a few days after Trump’s election and I stopped to say hi to this large sweaty beast (who’d decorated the cab of his semi with several Confederate flags) simply because I saw his truck was based out of Homer, Michigan, quite close to where I grew up.

Literally (proper use!) the first thing out of his snout, while still shaking my hand, was something about how ‘merica was about to “kick the living shit outta these socialist libtard motherfuckers.” I had not made one political comment! Nor was I displaying anything indicating I was political in any way! No, this was an Alex Jones preaching, Make America Great Again singing Trumpbot whose avatar had devoured the man. In its place stood some sort of cyborg who thought he’d detected an available “comment section" on which to shit, sorry…”post”…his almighty and holy political opinion. Whether it was wanted or not. It was clear that, because of his doctorate from Breitbart U. and the home study course graciously provided by Info Wars, he considered himself the patriotic reincarnation of Cicero! I'm pretty sure he could even spell Breitbart without using autocorrect. After some practice.

On the flip side, something else I’ve noticed, even during the week of the election, is that, despite this notably angry pulsating specimen, such cyborgs are rarely encountered when I'm hitchhiking around the country. And when they are, political affiliation doesn’t correspond to the frequency of random cyborg attacks. I don’t have the breakdown put down on a spreadsheet, but in my experience most often they’re actually liberal. "Shocking"! I know!

There’s a saying in radio and other entertainment professions: you're stage persona is "you times ten". Reality TV, YouTube celebrities, advertising, and now The Rise of the Avatars has infected all of society with that philosophy to the point where the over-amplified ego now speaks for the man himself. It's taken the inner child; the core of the person and dressed it up like Mimi. Or, if you’re a Freudian, released the Kraken of Id.

More ominously, The Rise of the Avatar has ushered in the beginnings of our abandonment of thousands of years of social evolution. We've come to reject the socially cohesive skills of compromise required to ensure a polite and peaceful coexistence because we’ve largely removed ourselves from, in our short-sighted minds at least,  the inconvenient need. When dealing with real human beings, face-to-face, it's much more difficult to ignore the perils of personal accountability that come with first-person realities. The Virtual Veil hides and protects the drunken antisocial ego (id) from physical, and reality-grounding human reactions and consequences. Eye contact. Facial expressions. Verbal cues. Body language. A fist to the mouth. All the things once indicating that maybe, just maybe, this is neither the right person or place on which to inflict my righteous and holy “opinion”.

Over the last 20 years, but specifically the last 10, the avatars have hijacked the man. With a freedom from accountability to each other has followed the corresponding abandonment of accountability to facts. Sit down, Moonbeam. You too, John Boy. This trait isn't exclusive to one ideological cult the other. Rather than being bothered to find a middle ground via compromise, collectively we've happily chosen to fellate our own ego. It’s about “winning”; the appearance of “right”. If even only to ourselves.

Simultaneously the Internet and social media has provided an easy means to congregate into our chosen virtual mobs with others who will happily enforce whatever “reality” we choose to conveniently believe, fact-based or not, as long as we return the favor. Rational thought within and expressed to a mob is a surefire path to a beating. Literally and figuratively.

The social contract has begun breaking down. Rather than “bringing us together” the Internet, and social media in particular, is proving to be the catalyst for our return to the pre-civilized Age of Barbarism. Oh, yeah. And there are stockpiles of nukes right over there. That should help the process. Eventually.

A Rare Dose of Sausage Party Hope

This is only a blurb; just the tip if you will (you just did). You'll have to wait for the rest, but what follows isn't as paradoxical as it may at first seem.

Cyborgs aside, you won't find a truly authentic representation of people nor find an accurate portrayal of the world on any device’s screen. You'll find slivered perspectives at best. At worst an intentional agenda driven distortion. Deceptive enhancement is by far the most common use of LEDs in 2017. The sole way to see things as they are, and therefore call things by their proper name, is to see them for yourself. Firsthand. Disinfected and vaccinated from lingering dogma; by Escaping the Cave so as to once again learn to employ your own rapidly-atrophying flesh-and-blood eyes.

I’d almost guarantee that if you set forth without expectations, with a mind freed from confirmation bias, the world will look nothing like the clickbait fiction your devices pumps into your minds each second of each hour of each day. Do the experiment for yourself and I suspect that when you plug back in you too will feel slightly schizophrenic; torn between two inner-voices. One digital. The other analogue. And that may be the only thing that saves us.

Ha! I know! Good luck, right?