Do you remember the world before the internet? I do, and the people in it were smarter than they are today. Considerably. When the internet was a brand new thing, and we all rushed to check it out with our dial-up connection and 56k modem, it promised to make us smarter. Remember that? The internet was going to make us all smarter, make our democracy more responsive to the will of the people, and bring us together to help us understand each other’s differences while we unraveled the mysteries of the universe together with science and technology. Do you remember that bullshit?
In reality, people started getting dumber right away. By the turn of the century the process was well underway. Today, well, look around. To call it “idiocy” would insult honest idiots everywhere. It’s more like an explosion of pernicious depravity and small-mindedness of every kind. The internet did not eliminated prejudices; it magnified them. Instead of helping people understand each other’s differences, the internet allowed socially isolated bigots of every kind to find other people just like themselves so they can feel stronger together. The internet didn’t make people smarter, but everyone thinks they know everything now, and just look at what it has done for democracy.
The internet is directly responsible for this steep decline in people’s intellectual abilities, and the more time you spend online the dumber you get. There is one very important reason for this. The truth only lives in the real world. The truth about anything and everything is always more complicated than people can comprehend, let alone describe. There’s always more to reality than meets the eye, and any attempt to translate reality into information is bound to hide as much as it reveals. Information is simply a poor substitute for experience.
It’s not just that the internet is full of malicious lies and intentionally misleading information, but even accurate information on the internet is likely to mislead if it is not backed up with experience in the real world. That’s just the nature of linear symbolic representation. The internet is made entirely of linear symbolic representation. There isn’t a speck of truth anywhere in it.
The more time you spend online, the less time you spend in the real world. So the more you think you know about the world, because of what you learned online, the less you actually know about the world, because you weren’t there. Instead, you were staring at a screen. You traded your own truth, for someone else’ information. That’s always dangerous.
The internet gives us the illusion that we can know the whole world, remotely, through the information available on the internet, but this is only an illusion. Instead, at best, the internet offers a collection of witness testimonies about the world. On the internet, as in court, it can be difficult to tell a credible witness from an incredible one, unless you know the right questions to ask, and the right questions are the ones that you already know the answers to.
While you may find it difficult to find accurate, helpful information online, your online behavior is a very reliable source of information about you. So, the more you try to learn about the world using tools like Google’s search engine, the more Google learns about how you think, what you think and what you think about. The more time you spend on Facebook, the more Facebook knows about your personal life, your friends, your likes and dislikes. Between them, they can deduce your hopes, your fears, your desires and your emotional vulnerabilities.
This information about you is very accurate, up to date, and provides an ever more complete picture of who you are, as more and more devices learn to recognize you. Your phone, your laptop, the office security camera, your car, your TV, your game console and your fit bit, all know who you are. Soon your refrigerator, thermostat, and light bulbs will recognize you on sight, by the sound of your voice, and by the eccentricities that make you, you, and all of that information is for sale to anyone who thinks they can make a buck from it.
The internet is not a good place to be, and I’m not here to make it better. I’m here because the internet is where despondent and depressed people go to get frustrated, and where frustrated people go to become depressed and despondent. The internet is where capable people become incapacitated. It’s what happens to the lives of people who don’t know what to do with their lives. I’m just here to say: “Don’t let it happen to you!”