It would have been difficult to foresee the full social effects of the internet. It is now apparent that our lives have been changed, forever, in ways that are simultaneously warped and wonderful.
Being socially and politically aware was difficult enough in a pre-online world. In this new, ‘wired’ age, where perceived connections of opinion are shared across social media, the intersection of money, politics and psychological manipulation has created an entirely new ‘world’ in which groups of people live immersed in opinion which they believe to be shared by the majority of that world.
To my mind, a powerful way of visualising this is as a cafe, where we may drop in at any time of the world’s day and night. It never closes, though we may experience peak response determined by the physical location (otherwise irrelevant) of our fellow customers. The cafe does not charge entry, and its drinks and meals are free, too… It’s very popular, especially with younger people – though specific groups of oldsters are catching on, fast.
The cafe is styled to appeal to us. It may be subtle and muted or vividly angry The really great thing is that the cafe’s owners have just the same taste in texture, colour and how information is displayed as we do!
The cafe has eye-catching posters that challenge legality, or use advanced digital techniques to show famous people speaking – or, more likely, shouting, angrily. Most impressively, the posters know who is looking at them and seem to focus on their watchers very carefully, getting pleasure from knowing the highs and lows of attention paid. This is great, because each time we go in for a coffee or a burger the electronic posters get more and more interesting – sometimes anticipating that subtle opinion towards which we were edging – prompted by our mates, of course.
Soon, with a few visits, we get a real feeling of warmth and belonging when we enter this cafe. An increasing number of our new friends come to sit with us to sip the delicious coffee, with its many exotic syrups. The food is cooked exactly as we like it, and the general decor keeps being updated in a way that makes us feel entirely at home.
One of the great things about our cafe is that it doesn’t argue with us. At home, or back in the dull world of work, we are struck by how stupid other people are; how they don’t feel this rush of emotion and righteous anger when the self-evident truths shown in the cafe posters are updated on our entry into its warm interior.
It’s the Echo Cafe, of course. And a frightening number of voting-age adults eat and drink there. We all live there in some fashion, unless we have become digital monks and eschew the cafe’s delights, altogether. It’s the most powerful cafe in history, and shadowy billionaires pay vast sums to tailor the fabulous posters on its walls.
The problem with the Echo Cafe is that it only shows us what we already ‘like’… There is no plurality of opinion, because we do not want our posters clogged up with the musing of idiots. By signing up to groups, we can immediately add hundreds of new friends to our dining and coffee sessions. In a way, it’s a new kind of village – but one in which the population is millions, possibly billions.
The Echo Cafe is deadly because it’s taking our very real leisure time (upstairs in our den, say) and joining us with great numbers of people who think exactly as we do. A humans, we grew into adulthood by facing up to the challenges of working with people who thought very differently than us. Some of them were just losers. Others turned out to be profoundly intelligent and knew the side-roads we had to learn to navigate before we could join the highway, safely.
We didn’t learn much from those that thought as we did. But those that didn’t changed our lives, not our comics.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.