Increasingly, information on the internet comes to us in tiny fragments. Texts, tweets and memes dominate our online interactions, while millions of tiny articles so short you can hardly tell them from the picture captions, break information about the world down to the most basic unit, the solitary fact. Today, every fact now spawns an anti-fact, because disinformation can be created almost effortlessly online, so each granule of online information now requires real world verification. It’s as though reality has been ground up, sifted, and mixed with equal parts fantasy, hokum, and lies, and served to us online.
Who would today claim that this intensive exposure to online information has resulted in a more well-informed society? Has the internet elevated the quality of public debate? Has the internet strengthened our democracy and made it more responsive to the people it serves? Does anyone still believe that the internet is making us smarter or the world a better place?
Instead of debating ideas, we now debate the facts, and because we no longer agree on the facts, we no longer inhabit the same reality. The internet has become a vast wasteland of granular information, a featureless landscape that shifts, like sand-dunes in the wind. Since nothing on the internet is real, nothing on the internet is true. Information on the internet amounts to nothing more than the finely ground detritus from the collision of a billion different private realities. Objectivity has always been an illusion, but on the internet, there are no objects, so there can be no objective truth.
As the internet distracts us more and more, we know less and less about the real world around us, and instead inhabit a virtual universe of information, like a mirage on the desert, personalized for us, based on our browsing history, demographics, and shopping proclivities. We have all the information in the world at our fingertips. Has it made us smarter? Do we make better decisions? Of course not! We’re more alienated and deluded than ever.
We can’t really blame the Russians for using the internet to corrupt our democracy. After all, we developed the machinery to do it right here in the USA. We demonstrated that it could be done, showed them how to do it, and we were well into the process of doing it to our selves, when we left a door open that let the Russians push a few buttons. If the internet hadn’t already shattered the world into a billion pieces and ground it into such a fine powder, the Russians would not have been able to reshape it so easily.