Are we corrupted by internet consumption?
Is the world structuring us? Who are we when nobody is watching?
Lately I’ve been terrified of the internet, and more broadly – technology.
When did writers handwrite manuscripts and first drafts? Or even the typewriters, when was the last time everybody had a typewriter for writing? Will somebody ever going to write me a handwritten letter instead of an email or a text message?
A few months ago I installed an app to track the amount of time I spend on the internet, those were shocking figurations. Eventually I forgot about the app, however I began to constantly deactivating my Instagram account and deleting the Instagram app itself. Now, I became upset at my phone and at how, as I became more conscious of this behavior, much I aimlessly scroll and press and consume meaningless content off certain sites. I tried to stop mindlessly using my phone and switched to using my computer whenever I need to check emails or watch some YouTube videos. I kept a book under my pillow, my phone on airplane mode 3 feet away from my bed so that I wouldn’t wake up every morning reaching for this device. I guess I’m slowly becoming more conscious?
It’s quite hard. As a society, we have become so emerged in technology and devices and social media that it is realistically hard for anyone to live differently. There is a constancy of digital waves circulating the air. I live in San Francisco, where the technology boom a few years back has heavily influenced the livelihood and culture of this city. Who remembers when the hippie movement originated from here in the 1970s?
A few days ago I attended a talk at The Lab [[link: http://www.thelab.org/]], an art space where it acts as “a catalyst for artistic experimentation”. There was a talk with Canadian film-maker and writer, Jon Rafman, where some of his shorts were shown along with the discussions. His film Still Life (Betamale) [[link: https://vimeo.com/75534042]] produced in 2013 in particular caught my attention. His work is often referred to as both disturbingly horrific and poetic, which are two descriptions I still fail to align together. In Still Life (Betamale), he explores the dark and deepest corners of Internet subcultures, heavily inspired by 4chan archives, digital aesthetics and Internet maximalism. All I could think of while watching the video was that: “This is so absurd”, “I’m feeling so uncomfortable” and “Did he source all this from the deep and the dark web??” Around me, I could hear murmurs and subtle reactions from the audience as the clips roll – they probably have not seen the videos like me.
In the beginning and repeated throughout the video, a monotone, digitally manipulated female voiceover reads “As you look at the screen, it is possible to believe you are gazing into eternity, [a pause] you see the things that were inside you. This is the womb, the original site of the imagination. You do not move your eyes from the screen, you have become invisible.”
These were Jon’s words on his work: “With Still Life (Betamale) I discovered this community of people who play these obscure, erotic Japanese video games from the 90s and screen captures them, and they felt completely violated by my use of their community”. And when he was asked if he feels that he’s exploitative towards these communities, he said: “There's always a sense of exploitation, but that's problematic in anthropology in general. There's different ways to exploit, but I think you can tell when someone is mocking or celebrating or critiquing a community, and I have no malicious impulse when I'm taking work out of one context and putting it another. For me, it's really tied more to poetry than anything, constantly quoting and putting things in new contexts.”
After attending the talk and watching some of his shorts, I began thinking a lot more about technology and it greatly influential role in our current society.
In the beginning of this year, the term ‘hikikomori’ started surfacing my web browsing media. ‘Hikikomori’ is identified as a psychological condition which makes people shut themselves off from society, often staying in their houses for months. This is a phenomenon in Japan where there are, according to Business Insider, at least half a million of sufferers. In a piece [[link: http://www.hikikomori-news.com/?p=2063]] on Hikikomori News, a sufferer confessed that he “would have killed [himself] without playing video games”. He wrote “The world is created for ‘me,’ the main player if it is an ordinary RPG game, no matter how many people (i.e. characters) are set there, everything is created for ‘me’ only. All the other characters, strength of enemies or kinds of items I get, exist only for ‘me’. Events occur with 100% chance. ‘I’ will be involved in it, but I can always resolve them no matter how they are serious. I am immortal because I can be resurrected instantly. After happy ending I will not be unhappy ever again. The world there seems as if it was a utopia for a human. But reality is not like that.”
Technology made its way into everybody’s lives. As I’m typing up this piece, I’m using my laptop. When I’m done, I’m going to send and share it via Google Docs. Two feet away from me, my best friend-slash-roommate is also on her laptop, scrolling through Facebook. Sometimes, the accessibility and capacity of technology seem terrifying. A few weeks ago, for my Digital Tools class I had to retouch a fashion editorial image. The main goals were to 1) erase some freckles, 2) smooth out the skin texture, 3) clone more hair strands so it appears voluminous and lastly to fix the model’s body curves. I hated the assignment. I felt an urge of anger, humiliation and guilt as I was doing the tasks and kept telling myself “This isn’t right”.
Coincidentally, because I’ve committed to reading only secondhand books, I came upon some very interesting literature – one of which is the work of a German writer Hermann Hesse. At the moment I’m reading Demian, a coming-of-age sort of story where a young man’s awareness slowly grows in terms of his own identity, societal convention and the good and bad spheres of most things existed. Some lines stuck out to me:
“We always define the limits of our personality too narrowly…But we consist of everything the world consists of, each of us, and just as our body contains the genealogical table of evolution as far back as the fish and even much further.”
“The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. The take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But once you know the other interpretation you no longer have the choice of following the crowd.”
This evolution of the technological world is to an extent an escapism we as a society is seeking for. Something that isn’t a part of us because we assume that there isn’t more to us – technology can perform better and enhance the development of the current society. Fascination with virtual reality, obsession with a digitally constructed identity and image and constant consumption of the internet, we are drawing ourselves away from what is natural and what is artificial.
I am not here to argue with the advancement and achievements of technology and how it has potentially saved lives through medicals. However, like stories from Black Mirror or other examples where technology has corrupted our society, I’m becoming reluctant towards the expansion and extension of it in the future.