We Can’t Handle What the Internet Has Done to Us
A practical philosopher explains how social media broke our sense of self
It’s the morning after the British elections and I’m thinking about the internet. I’ve been reading Trick Mirror, a collection of essays about self-knowledge and authenticity by New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino. The mirror in the title refers to our efforts to try and know our true selves through the way we perform on the internet. I started blogging when I was 24, and I have also grown up, as a writer, looking at myself in the mirror of the internet. For Tolentino, as it is for me, writing is a way to know the self. But I also wonder, “is that really true, or is this just a performance?”
Like Tolentino, I have written about ecstatic experiences, moments of self-transcendence, and epiphany. Yet as soon as I communicate those experiences to others, I think, “Is that how it was? Am I remembering accurately? Or have I constructed a neat version of the story for public consumption?”
Our sense of self exists in a constant feedback loop with our digital reflection.
This is what it’s like for all of us online, in the internet age. Our sense of self exists in a constant feedback loop with our digital reflection.
David Bowie, that alien from the future, picked up the massive transformation about to happen in 1999 when he was interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman:
Bowie: I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet will do to society — both good and bad — is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.
Paxman: It’s just a tool though, isn’t it?
Bowie: No, it’s not. It’s an alien life form. Is there life on Mars? Yes, it’s just landed here.
Paxman: But it’s simply a different delivery system isn’t it? You’re saying it’s something more profound.
Bowie: Oh yeah. The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage. Where the interface between the user and provider will be so… in…