This essay is repost from http://abdimom.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/shadows-of-the-intenet-age/, it purpose was to to write about anonymity and human conflict in the internet age. In my opinion it is...
This essay is repost from http://abdimom.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/shadows-of-the-intenet-age/, it purpose was to to write about anonymity and human conflict in the internet age. In my opinion it is important at least to raise the question why people who behave in civilized manners during the daylight become aggressive, impulsive, antisocial individuals in the digital realm? How anonymity influences such behavior? This led to deeper analysis, which I am afraid will not be covered in such short essay. My confidence emerges for the clarity of thought, rather than deep knowledge of the subject.
Internet age finally circuited what the Russian philosopher Vladimir Vernadsky called Noosphere (1944), or the sphere of human thought. According to Vernadsky, the Noosphere is the highest form of human society, where the human mind becomes its most powerful source of energy. High speed and low cost of communication, digital sound, quality of static and dynamics images become key elements that make such sphere a reality.
Where Vernadsky seem to be wrong is in his view of Noosphere being the highest manifestation of human as the social creature. By social creature I assume a responsible member of the society, who complies with socially acceptable rules and who benefits from cooperation among members of that society. Vernadsky looks at human being as an atom of new society that outwardly interacts with the social, technological and natural environments (what I will call N+1, N+2, etc).
As Vernadsky was developing his outward-focused theory, Carl Jung was developing his inward-focused theory called analytical physiology, which in my opinion presents alternative view of the internet age (what I will call N-1, N-2, etc). Intenet today is as much about information as about “dreams” and “images”. My main hypothesis is that, as human becomes part of the sphere of human thought he or she does not act solely as atomic social creature.
However, first we need to understand where the domain of the sphere of human though is. I argue that such sphere is built neither from hardware infrastructure (cables, satellites, servers), nor from software (web, algorithms, protocols). Both hardware and software are just instruments that are constantly replaced and updated as the amount of the total human knowledge demands new capacities. The capacity of such sphere can be limited only by the collective human ability to generate new thoughts, idea and knowledge. Additional differentiation has to be made between thoughts (which could be simply perceptions of the world that surrounds us), ideas (new reaction that results from interactions with the world) and knowledge (some subjective verification or closing a gap between previous perceptions and new interaction experience).
If the sphere of human thought is the product of human mind (both rational and irrational, intelligent and unintelligent), then the domain of this sphere is both collective human consciousness and unconsciousness.
As person becomes part of the sphere of human thought, he or she takes multiple context-dependent roles and behaviors, or what Jung identifies as archetypes – Self, Ego, Persona and Shadow. Self, or the God Within, is the constant driver of truth and self-purpose. According to Jung, the Self develops in the second half of individual’s life as it encounters and struggles with Ego for mutually beneficial balance. Self struggles to generate new knowledge that could be beneficial to the collective consciousness, its timeless footprint in the history of the humanity. The Ego, is individual’s temptation to be important, famous, recognizable in the sphere of human thought. Ego searches for its citation index, google search results, number of “friends”, statistics of the “twitter posts” and “blog hits”. To achieve that Ego generates ideas. Ego demands recognition and respect, it also develops an identity of the given individual with which such recognition has to be matched (nick, user name, email and web address). This leads us to Persona, or the public profile of the individual – his/her Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace, Ebay, etc. Persona is social Façade, for social acceptance within different communities (university alum, professional association, interest/fan/solidarity groups, etc). As any object, humans have both façades and shadows. Shadow is the instinctive, irrational, repressed part of the unconscious mind. It is the dark side of each individual, which does not recognize socially acceptable and enforced norms of behavior.
All archetypes generate thoughts, but the Shadow brings its thoughts from the deepest and darkest “corners”, which could be both most creative and most destructive. Internet releases the Shadow from the dark corners of individual unconsciousness into collective unconsciousness of the sphere of human thought. Thus billions of conflicts that take place over the net are surged by this dark and simultaneously creative energy matter. What makes many virtual conflicts so irrational is the fact that they involve conflicts within specific individuals, conflicts among different individuals, and conflicts between different archetypes of different individuals. Intuitively many of us recognize such complexity and whenever we decide to reply to offensive comment, we often try to analyze who that person is and what made him/her write such thoughts.
Anonymity erases the social norms and fuels rage. This topic deserves separate discussion. As Shadow gets its own unique nick and/or username, it starts a separate and often destructive life in the virtual domain. As individual unconsciousness becomes part of the collective unconsciousness, it also becomes more vulnerable to collective manipulation based on prejudice, fear, dogmatic beliefs, anger, etc. The key difference of the internet and its social media communities is that it provides more customized/individualized approach to such manipulation. Unlike radio, TV, newspapers and other old media instruments, internet and its social media communities allow to target each individual and his/her unconsciousness based on his/her digital footprints.
Whether it is Persona, Ego or Shadow, their creative and often unfulfilled energy can be directed towards destroying the individual (suicide clubs) or actual communities in which the individual live (extremist groups). In the same manner, destructive energy could be projected from an external source, in which community or its particular leading members may destroy the individual (cyber bulling).
In short, the sphere of human thought takes the millennium old internal conflict into a new level. It connects to the broadband the “caveman” that lives in each individual. Moreover, it gives an opportunity for each “caveman” to connect to the rest of the “savages” of the virtual world.
I think of myself as an informed optimist. So I believe that human society is be able to cope with such complexity as long as we purposely understand new vulnerabilities and the fact that collective unconsciousness is as much part of the sphere of human thought as the collective consciousness.