Do you remember the year you first connected to the Internet? I have friends who participated in primitive discussion forums in 1992. I got my first email address in early 1995. At the time, it felt as though I had held out as long as possible. Happy anniversary: I have been online for twenty years.
On 7 May 2014, the L. A. Times reported how many people in the world have Internet access and how many do not:
A commenter responded that Internet access should not be held in balance against commodities of basic survival - but should it?60% of world's population still won't have Internet by the end of 2014. A report this week by the United Nations says nearly 3 billion people around the world will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014. But 4.2 billion will remain unconnected. ...
This dichotomy between the developed, connected world and developing, unconnected worlds, between being globally plugged in and anchored in a local reality, repeats in personal microcosm. We have connected lives online and distinct lives in meatspace. Constantly shifting from one's sea legs to one's land legs is stressful. How essential - or detrimental - is online activity to our basic survival, development and growth as individuals in the real world?While 60% of the world doesn't have internet, 69% won't have clean water, full medical services, low risk of war, incomes above $6900 a year, or above average infant mortality rates. You think the 900 million Chinese who are picking rice or working in sweatshops care about internet...
Street art by PichiAvo from Mislatas representan 2014 in Valencia, Spain. Image Source: Art the System.
It feels as though virtual life is growing at the expense of real life. When Karl Marx wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses, he could not have imagined this most potent drug, which keeps over 3 billion people pacified (you can watch them joining the Internet, one by one, here). Forty per cent of the world's population is connected. The push to get the remaining 60 per cent connected made me think about enormous budding economies and nascent power groups. With all that potential, the Internet could be a seat of freedom or the foundation of tyranny. What it will become depends on how one manages time online and off.
Image Source: Canis Lupus Hominis.
First, the slavery of endless distractions, the building blocks of oppression: the Internet is the nemesis of success in the real world. It turns virtual life into a giant, addictive MMORPG. There are online innovators who try to prevent the birth of tyranny on the Internet's heaving back. But how can these activists ever rouse the masses when the seat of popular revolution is the most powerful diversion and distraction ever invented? How can anyone even remember his or her own name after seeing one thousand cat videos, or cute hamster videos, or boa constrictors eating this-or-that videos? This video of a baby laughing at his father ripping up pieces of paper has 76 million views. That is nearly the entire population of Turkey. Or how about the cross-genre housecat on the Roomba vacuum cleaner videos? What about the endless reports of UFOs coming out of Latin America? Not a cat video watcher? There are parallel distractions for all types and levels of online users. The masses don't need conspiracy theorists' shadowy Illuminati puppet masters to manipulate them into total subjugation. The masses are happily subjugating themselves every day, all over the Internet. Any revolution against the Web's infant police state cannot rise in an environment of blink-and-click amusement, mesmerized addiction, lost personal time, and squandered individual accomplishment. That is before we even touch monitored and harvested private information.
There are so many ways to flush years of time down the toilet online. Was every minute you spent well spent? I have been online for twenty years. I wish I could get the cat-vacuum-cleaner-video time back. That time was wasted and the cost was non-accomplishment in the real world. Every minute lost is a minute of being pulled softly into velvet slavery, not a velvet underground. The Internet feels like a bewitching prison, with signs plastered on its internal walls which read, 'freedom.'
Think of the time you have wasted online, hypnotized by stupid bullshit. Now add up the time pissed away by millions of people in whole societies, and you can see that the cat-video-pacification project has been very expensive and probably contributed to the onset of the recession. It also precipitated massive alterations in the means of production. The nature of commodities in consumption-driven economies changed beyond recognition. The recession revamped the whole structure of employment. It shifted the geographic loci of economic power. It inflated credit economies to unprecedented levels. It transformed the very meaning of law and government. And at the same time, the Internet cushioned the blows of those changes. We had recession without revolution. Taxation without representation. Economic collapse without world war. Soon, good times will return. Consumption in hard-hit areas will revive and no one will remember the bloodless shifts that transpired behind walls of mirrors. For all the outrage at the NSA and similar bodies, few will imagine the enormity of new infrastructure that has been quietly constructed behind those walls. Its builders probably do not even fully grasp what they are making.
Think things have changed? This is nothing. Old institutions will crumble to make way for ones which best balance the virtual and real. In his book, Divided Nations: Why Global Governance is Failing, and What We Can Do About It (2013), Ian Goldin argues that global institutions were created to solve 20th century problems and they cannot deal with the scale and character of 21st century issues (thanks to -B.).
Ian Goldin argues that today's global institutions, founded in the 20th century, lack the structure, capacity and mentality to deal with Millennial problems. Video Source: Youtube.
But at this moment, the old system still holds sway. The new order has not yet arrived. We are in the deep breath before the plunge into massive transformation. Globalization intensifies world competition top to bottom in all jobs and occupations. Those who compete well are those who operate as though the old system is all that matters. They manage time best in real life, in spite of virtual distractions. They succeed in the conventional, real world system, even though its days are numbered and it is not functioning very well.
To succeed in the conventional system, marshal time like a general. If you want to make of yourself one iota of what you are capable, carve out blocks of time offline to think straight and reconnect with reality. Once you reconnect with reality, the real world poses the same challenge of focus and transcendence. It is possible to waste years in humdrum tasks that make one look and feel busy, but actually amount to nothing. To rise beyond the job, leave a mark, contribute to society, one needs time beyond the job, time to develop the projects which leave a mark, time to give back to society. You can spot successful people who are working the old, real world system. They only go online to achieve real world goals. They social network solely about their real life projects. They treat the Internet like a simple tool - a communications medium like a glorified telephone, enhanced radio or souped-up television or newspaper - to make their real world interests reach a bigger audience. They don't engage with the Internet as a new dimension of being. Even if they say they love the limitless potential of new technologies (blah, blah, blah), they really don't.
Under these conditions, innovators arise. They are at risk of being attacked, alienated or dismissed by the people who are still milking the old system. Because innovators are adapting to and immersing themselves in the virtual world, they behave in odd or startling ways in conventional, old-fashioned environments. A symbolic example is Kirsten Dunst's character in the film Melancholia (2011). She looks like a basket case failure, until everyone sees that the world is really ending. Then she becomes the only character who knows how to cope.
Dunst in Melancholia. Image Source: Youtube.
Even if innovators don't want to act as agents of destruction or revolution in the old system, they are, by definition, helping to dismantle it. As a result, they face backlashes and labeling. The evil of social labeling is growing faster than ever before. Through labeling, warring camps appear. Social labeling is the most frightening and powerful of tools; it is an engine of genocides. The innovator can be hailed as a new god one minute, a criminal the next. The online combatant against real world tyranny can be labeled as tyrant, violator or transgressor. The dying innovator could ask, surrounded by his reactionary friends: Et tu Brute? Just because you don't understand what I'm doing, doesn't mean I'm having a nervous breakdown, turning into a social misfit, becoming a political radical or a social renegade.
Techno teacher Sadhguru aka Jaggi Vasudev: How to become inspired to create inclusive consciousness? (November 2012). Video Source: Youtube.
Perhaps we can harmonize consciousness between two worlds. Some commentators (like the celebrity guru in the above video) still view this problem in terms of conflict between online technology and real world resources. It is no wonder that the shrinking ozone layer and disappearing polar ice caps are the primary environmental metaphor for anxieties about the dissolving real world. Still, the guru is right: improved consciousness is the central problem. Immersion in the Internet while remaining rooted in the real world demands the focus of a meditation expert or a martial artist. Balancing the paradox between real and virtual is difficult, but it is the only way. When you are in the real world, don't ignore, alienate or criminalize virtual innovators. And when you do go online, don't waste your time.