Thursday, 18 February 2016

Semi-conscious reality created by internet world

Sitting on a bus the other day I witnessed the increasingly semi-conscious world in which we now live. A guy jumped on, as the doors were closing. He was on his mobile phone to someone. The driver and passengers waited patiently for the man to touch in with his Oyster card, but no his conversation was far more important. Eventually he sensed the growing discontent and touched in. The bus moved on.

This instance is not untypical. In the supermarket, an individual arrives at the check-out with mobile phone seemingly surgically attached to her ear. At the same time she is gesticulating rudely at the check-out staff as to what she wants to happen regarding her shopping. Heaven forfend that she rings off and deal direct with the matter in hand.

These incidents are all too typical of the increasingly double existence that many people live. There is the physical daily life and the growing virtual reality world of the internet and mobile phone. Enter a train carriage to find the two worlds colliding.

Some on the phone or laptop, others still maybe talking and inter-relating to those around them.

A road accident occurs, some people move to help before the arrival of the emergency services. Another group films it on their phones.

Internet and mobile technology have produced the single biggest change in the way in which we live of the past century. So much is now done on line, with ever more migration in that direction. The knowledge on offer with just a couple of clicks on the computer is breathtaking, the new horizons incredible. However, there are many other implications of the internet revolution, both physiological and psychological.

Take Facebook. The whole phenomenon of Facebook has transformed the concept of friends. People sign up Facebook friends across the spectrum, from people they know well to others who are maybe friends of friends or share certain interests.
Another phenomenon of the virtual reality world is the willingness of people to share the most intimate details of their life on line. So people will share pregnancy scans and other details with virtual strangers. If the sharer of this information was to meet some of the people they share such information with, in say a tube train, they would probably be horrified if they even spoke to them. It is a very strange world

The oddity of the medium was underlined to me recently when attending a party. There was another person at the party who was a Facebook and twitter link. We had exchanged views on various political issues. It would have been nice to talk. Yet it was only later when, via Facebook, she was thanking the person, who had invited her to the party, that I realised she was there. Indeed on recollection I think I was probably standing right next to her at one point. We later exchanged greetings (on Facebook) and vowed to do better next time when the physical reality world recurred.

There is also a growing belief that rather than open up people’s minds, devices like Facebook and twitter are actually putting people into ever more closed silos, where prejudices are reinforced by an exchange of  views with those of a like mind. This can strengthen prejudices or indeed bring solidarity.

Some studies have found that many of those flocking to say Donald Trump in the US operate in these sorts of environments. Views are reinforced in the virtual world, dismissing anything outside. The same happens on other issues. In the case of my own Facebook friends, many are Jeremy Corbyn supporters and there tends to be reinforcement process going on there amid the generally hostile attacks of the right wing media against the labour leader. A "they all hate us but we don't care" bunker type attitude can develop from such exchanges.

Moving forward where does this all lead? On the physical level, with ever more work centering on computer terminals there are the growing levels of sedentary existence. This will have medical implications, with increasing levels of things like obesity.

Then there is the growing gap between what might be called the physical and the virtual world. The latter seems to increasingly be taking over from the former. There is likely to be a loss of inter-social skills. In physical and mental terms the internet revolution could be atomising and making individuals more isolated.

There is much to consider in terms of where the internet revolution is leading us – will it be the nirvana of freedom and knowledge or a short cut to the ultimate 1984 controlled world of Citizen Smith?

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