The Shadows of Digital Technology and the Real World . An Essay for the 2017 Nine Dots Prize

I regularly buy a copy of the London Review of Books, a fortnightly publication which offers extensive book reviews, thoughtful essays and a handful of poems.

While on a flight from London to Brisbane in November 2016, I noticed a Cambridge University Press and a sister US organisation advertisement in the book review publication.

The ad invited readers to enter a competition to write an essay with a significant prize of $100,000 – perhaps the biggest prize offered for a 3000 word maximum essay along with an outline for a book for a further expanse on the theme.

Readers were invited to write the essay on the theme Does Digital Technology make Politics Impossible?

Upon returning from Australia, I wrote and submitted a 2907 word essay: The Shadows of Digital Technology and the Real World  with an outline for the book.

The publishers called the competition the Nine Dots Prize. Nine Dots appears on the top right hand side of Google’s home page to show Google apps.  Nine dots also refer to a puzzle.

Around 700 essays were submitted.  Cambridge University Press announced the winner in May 2017. A former Google employee won the competition. Ouch!

The Shadows of Digital Technology

and the Real World

Does Digital Technology make Politics Impossible?

The answer is YES.

A Personal View

My frequent efforts over the past 10 years to reach out to the political hearts and minds of others through social media, via digital technology, have become exercises in futility. I cannot change the political views and loyalties of readers with a different perspective.

My political blogs, * which link to my Facebook pages, Twitter and LinkedIn, contain critiques and occasionally hard-hitting polemics of the political/corporate world from a Buddhist perspective. I have numerous essays and analysis of the human condition on my websites.

Social media has selected the ones who I can choose as ‘Friends.’ It’s a stitch-up. Facebook sends me ‘Friends Requests’ to confirm new Friends and send me lists of ‘People You May Know.’ They have similar interests, similar priorities and similar lifestyle as myself.

There is no real evidence to show any return at all on more than 100 political blogs. I suspect have not changed a single mind. This is a 100% failure rate.

Here’s the reason why:

I have concluded that my political reflections only land on the like-minded. This harsh reality struck me as I read regularly those friendly responses to my critiques. My readers are the same-minded. What does that mean? It means a cruel truth:

I AM WRITING TO MYSELF.

My social media ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’, share similar political perceptions of the past, present and future as myself. Social media encourages preaching to the converted. The writer and the readers are truly one. My readers consist of none other than myself but with a different name.

We could consider social media as a form of social control. This world glorifies the self through the privatisation of the self. Social media functions as a major form of distraction from real engagement in social and political issues. Social media has no power to change the world because it is outside the real world.

Ah, a Response from the ‘Other’

In social media, we abide in the form of a collective self in parallel universes with other collections of selves, who also live in parallel universes.

Unexpectedly, the response of the ‘other’ who is not myself, occasionally springs up on my social media device. This person has a very different political view. We feel indignation at the cutting remarks of those who attack what we write. This online stress arises through communicating at each other rather than with each other.

If the person comes across as rude and aggressive, he or she faces deletion, an extermination of their online presence on our page, or faces a collective assault from the faithful for daring to post a hostile response.

We react to their intrusive views and then go back to communicating with ourselves. One to One.

Why would I want to engage in messages with another who rubbishes what I write? A single press of the finger deletes, mutes, unfollows or blocks out anybody who dares to come across as unreasonable, as somebody who holds equally strong opposite views to myself. A little stress or frustration triggers our unscripted exit without so much for a courteous thank you.

Our predisposed tendencies carry such authority in our consciousness that we have made up our mind about the veracity of our truth, even before we have taken time to try to understand the views of another.

Digital media gives the opportunity to spread our biases far and wide. Truth, facts, opinions, conspiracy theories, rumours, gossip and innuendos merge together into a swirling pot of argument. Not that it matters a great deal. An online argument only serves to remind the parties concerned of parallel universes. Never the twain shall meet in the thrust of 140 characters, as allowed by Twitter, or a paragraph or two on Facebook or a few paragraphs or more on a blog.

Social media sanctions an immediate superficial response, devoid of reflection and a depth of subtle enquiry. Ethics, empathy and acts of compassion arise from the depth of being not from text messages and emoticons. Ethics, focussed attention and depths of knowledge serve as the key to wise political action, not the multiplicity of distractions of social media.

The online gap between self and other is unbridgeable. The solemn voice on London Underground reminds passengers disembarking at a tube station. “Mind the Gap.”  We don’t need to change the mind of those who already agree with our political views and we don’t change the mind of those online, who disagree with our political views. There is no time to explore the nuances of political discourse in social media. The norm is superficial, quick fire response.

Social media stays divorced from the necessary inter-action of a meaningful social life and the inter-action between real humans living in the real world. Such media has developed into a giant club of narcissism crippling proper public debate, crippling contact with the real of others, who exist outside of ourselves. Social media endorses a massive disengagement between people on a global scale.

For example:

  • My blogs include critiques on the personality and the politics of Donald Trump. I have never attracted a single defence of Trump on any of my social platforms.
  • My blogs criticise the successive policies of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. I have never attracted a single defence of these policies on my social media platforms.
  • I have criticised the US invasions/bombs/drones/ on 14 Muslim nations in the past generation. I have never attracted a single defence of these policies.
  • I have criticised corruption in the corporations and pharmaceutical industry. Yes, you guessed it. I have never attracted a message of defence of the pharmaceutical industry. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Why aren’t my criticisms thrown back in my face? Because I am writing to myself. At best, my words crystallize the views of a few – for or against what I write.

Social media offers social apartheid in its vast universe of abstract communications due to living in this huge hallway of eternal mirrors of our own reflection or trapped in an echo chamber, another popular metaphor, for an “enclosed” system of beliefs and views, which censor or exclude different views.

The pseudo reality created through digital technology confirms the divisions, separations and alienation between peoples on Earth. We abide cut off from real engagement with each other.

The dark side of the Internet ensnares millions including addiction to social media, consumerism, gambling and pornography. The Darknet lurks in the background of violent abuse, a depth of depravity and murderous intent.

People, who use the Internet, face hacking, trolling, cyber-attacks and surveillance of our secret lives. The widespread abuse of the Internet turns millions of lives into a nightmare. These unresolved issues matter far more than communicating with our ‘selves’ on social media or reacting against others with different views. We need a major public inquiry in the ways the Internet harms the psyche and neurology of those who spend hours daily online.

Threefold Process

Like other people, I engage in the personal application of a three-fold process of intention, actions and experience of results in daily life and on social media.

I write a blog due to a firm intention, the centralised force in the psyche. I research on the Internet and in publications. These actions include reading political literature, critiques, books and listening to/watching online interviews/documentaries. I write copious notes to sew together a blog from a few paragraphs to several thousand words. The blog confirms the result of the intention and actions. The same process for real social/political change also consists of intention, actions and results.

I also draw upon my years as a former Buddhist monk in the East, countless conversations over a soya latte in England, global travels, reflection, meditation, teaching retreats and constructive engagement with people. Our actions in the real world give support to what we say and write. The intention to apply any insights must take priority in daily life. Social media belong to the margins of importance. We need our citizens to strengthen their intentions and actions for a sustainable world.

We learn about each other through listening to each other in the real world. Our talking together at home, in the coffee shop and work environment can give inspiration to taking steps to act.

We can’t go on living the way we do. We slowly move towards making this Earth uninhabitable. Lifestyles, institutions and politics have become unfit for purpose. We need a spiritual/political revolution. A political revolution won’t come through writing to short and long reviews and polemics on the social media. Our actions in the real world matter.

I have made sincere efforts to impress on all my readers the need for a non-violent revolution.

I believe the best of politics focuses on international peace, justice, real support for the needs of all, population explosion, affordable living, community building worldwide, renewable energy and a society protected from climate change.

I call for a revolution that transforms the personal, the inner world, as well as the political. Past revolutions have failed because the revolutionaries and their successors neglected to bring about a revolution in themselves. They became addicted to personal self-aggrandizement, power and control. Greed, aggression and delusion dominated their perceptions. Successors to the revolutionaries inherited their unresolved personal issues. Eventually, the revolutionaries let us down and let themselves down.

The arising of digital media does not qualify as an authentic revolution. Digital media serves as an escape from a troubled world.

We think our political and corporate leaders express delusions of self-importance and self-promotion. Wait a minute. What about the delusion of writing political/corporate critiques to oneself while imaging these essays in futility will impact on the lives of others? ‘Others’ would never dream of reading our blogs in the first place. They are writing blogs to themselves as well.

We need to develop the capacity to transform the inner life from greed to contentment, from blame to empathy and from fear to creative initiatives. We need wise citizens in our communities to show the way to a sustainable and supportive lifestyle. We need our political, social, religious and educational institutions to co-operate for the inner and outer welfare of all.

We can end up believing digital technology makes it easier to have contact with others. Yes, at the most superficial level. Social media masks authentic community building and social inter-action.

Political Action in the Real World

The pseudo-reality of digital technology has become our master rather than our servant. Social/political unrest continues. Fear and blame is widespread. We must find practical ways towards social/political change.

We need an expansion of the application of politics, a word derived from the Greek – ‘of, for, or relating to citizens and communities. ‘The politics of support for others within the local community, nation state and outside of the nation state show a sense of responsibility of citizens. Non-party ‘politics’ matter as much as party politics.

Here are 24 meaningful actions for widespread contributions toward political change. Citizens from the young to the elderly have the potential to contribute to political change. My list offers something for everyone who wishes to contribute to the health of the world.

Can we respond to and develop any of these proposals in this list?

24 KINDS OF CONTRIBUTION TOWARDS POLITICAL ACTION

  1. Acts of compassion
  2. Application of the legal system
  3. Application of creativity and the arts
  4. Attending and organising public meetings
  5. Boycotts, divestment and sanctions
  6. Conflict resolution
  7. Constructive engagement, cultural contacts, travel for contact with others
  8. Consumer awareness of food, goods, services and applied ethics
  9. Critiques, polemics of governments, science, businesses, religion, social media, etc.
  10. Dialogue groups, facilitation, alliances, communications with those in political office
  11. Education on wise action in primary schools, universities, academic research and social sciences
  12. Funding and supporting charities, international aid and worthwhile projects
  13. Generosity of time/energy/skills, donations, aid, diplomacy, service and voluntary work
  14. Imaginative initiatives to gain attention of the media.
  15. Letters to politicians, corporations and petitions
  16. Mass Gatherings to awaken public attention
  17. Meetings at home, coffee shops, factories and offices to take steps
  18. Memberships of campaigning organisations, charities, networks, political parties
  19. Non-violent protest, street demonstrations and rallies
  20. Posters, photographs, film, leaflets, articles, essays, books
  21. Public talks, letters to the media and phone calls
  22. Standing for public office
  23. Workshops, courses, training programmes, regular meetings,
  24. Vigils, peace walks, expressions of solidarity and empathy.

Social media can offer some modest, lightweight support to notify and inspire others to contribute towards political action. Online texts can go viral. So what?

Data Governs our Lives, not Governments

Digital media makes it possible to collate large amounts of data about our daily lives, interests, travel habits, friends, purchases and our social/political views. The corporate/political world employs this technology to accumulate data to predict and promote our future behaviour.

Governments have less and less influence over lives. We move towards a situation where data governs our lives.

Our contacts on social media manifest as the confirmation of ‘selfie’ culture in its highest and most self-deceptive form. There is no such thing as society. There is no such thing as the self. There is the domination of the selfie culture. Facebook has a single Face. Our own. Twitter has a single twitter. Our own. LinkedIn links us to our selfie selves.

Engagement with the real world has become the necessity so we can move towards a sane and sustainable way of living.

We live increasingly in the never-never land of online selfie culture – out of touch, out of reach and out of the real. Digital technology functions as an engine for our collective delusions. The global corporations that control and use digital technology have made politics impossible. Until recent years, we trusted that governments and political parties have the power to make decisions on behalf of the people. We are losing this trust.

Governments worldwide have failed to tackle the growing unrest of its citizens about the power of corporations. Ongoing major advances in technology, including digital technology, slashes the size of the workforce. People become disposable units. Globalisation contributes to wage slaves, widespread redundancies, subsistence hourly rates, brutal work conditions in factories and factory farms, widespread job insecurity, exploitation of resources and the massive gap between the rich and the poor.

Global corporations engage in avoidance of pay taxes amounting to $billions on an annual basis – money needed to support the unemployed, low paid, social services, health, education, infrastructure and the environment. They exploit digital technology in their obsession with targets and profits.

Digital technology enables governance by the powerful in one part of the world over the powerless in another part of the word or the same part of the world.

It is hardly surprising that stress and depression among citizens have become a worldwide epidemic.

Digital Technology digs into our psyche

Millions of people spend 20 – 24 hours per week or more glued to a television screen alone. That’s about a full eight or 10 years out of a life of 70 years. Smart phones, tablets, Skye, Youtube and cinema also consume our attention.

Google turns up phenomenal statistics in terms of users of social media. Take 2016. More than 1.79 billion people every month use Facebook. Around 10 billion ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ generated daily. People spend an average of 20 minutes on a single logging into Facebook. Millions of people switch on their smart phone to check their messages to start their day and continue frequently to check their phone throughout the day.

More than 300 million people are active users of Twitter. Every account has on average of 200 followers. LinkedIn, a social networking site for professionals, has more than 380 million members worldwide.

Social media has become a huge cast of citizens reduced to selfie existence – with staggering numbers of text message, snappy conversations and hurried eyes scrolling down Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs etc., plus countless apps and games for online entertainment. Digital technology digs into our psyche.

The creators/manipulators of digital media and their clients, the manipulated, wallow in the same underworld of the tedium of short responses, bland ideas and false claims. You would think that these staggering figures for networking by human beings would generate a massive sense of co-operation, respect for diversity and global empathy.

Where is the evidence? Even if every person on Earth could log in to one or more social networks, it would not bring us a single step closer to living in a peaceful, just and sustainable world. That is the task of engagement in politics in the real world. Digital media converts much data into entertainment for our passive consumption.

Final Comment on Social Media

Numerous citizens perceive our politicians, corporations, banks, media, lawyers, economists and other such advocates belong to a corrupt class. Profit obsessed corporations control digital technology at the expense of politics for the people. The controllers of digital technology have exploited us for their own ends. They are sucked in as well to such technology.

What is the biggest political resentment of hundreds of millions of people? Citizens feel that politicians have stopped talking to us.

We feel the politicians do not address our concerns. Our politicians seem to be only talking to themselves.

Where have I seen that before?

 Note to Readers

November 2018

Nine Dots Prize has a new competition with $100,000 prize. 

Title: Is There a Place to Call Home?

 




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