It’s a thought that began after I’d spent a full day writing in various forms: email correspondence, working on journals from our students in the Silent Eye, and preparing blogs for the week.
Each of these involved an intense degree of ‘connection’ – via the internet, of course; that universal highway of data and opinion. It got me wondering at what point ordinary connectedness begins to veer towards overload. I found myself thinking: how would I advise anyone else what the right level of connectedness is?
My question is not about the actual connection technology. The evolution of what was the simple voice-based phone line to become the universal connector to the world within the internet is staggering and wonderful. What it has enabled has changed the way we live our lives, and the way we work.
As with any such fast-moving development, the earlier achievements have sunk beneath the layers of today’s user tools, as each type of connection threw up a winner, ensuring it was embedded beneath the consumer’s world. We might say each was a classic example of a different type of evolution at work.
The web-browser is a good example: our window on the digital world, one whose coming ensured that everything we wanted to see could be presented in the same way so that it was capable of being unbundled by the browser into not just text (which used to be be only option), but into graphics and sounds, as well. An everyday thing, now, yet when it was launched, it replaced thirty years of previous technology at a stroke…
Back in the bad old days, every industry seemed to have its own means of connecting; and not to an overall source, but just to the other members of that type of business. This peer-to-peer type of connection even became the basis for the first versions of e-commerce.
I’ve found, talking to others, that there is a growing sense that we are drowning in information. There’s also the feeling that we’ve lost the ‘honesty’ of the original internet; that it’s a free-for-all and the one that shouts loudest wins the argument. It’s much easier to understand opinion than facts. The truth is more complex than the slick lie, designed and packaged to fit into our prejudices by the populist press whose real interest is manipulation of politics.
It is reckoned that a well-read quality newspaper conveys many times the information we currently get from our pre-selected interest in the online equivalent. The downside of being able to select what we want to know is that we don’t expand what we might need to know.
Is there any reasonableness in asking how connected we should be?
If we work via computers, we have little choice in their use for the purposes of our employment. Many young people come home from work to eat a meal, then sit down to play online games, connected to thousands of their companions across the globe. To me, that’s way too much screen time, but their loyalty to this pastime can be fanatical. I think it’s vital that we surround ourselves ourselves with the ‘real’. I believe one of the main reasons we are seeing such an assault on the truth is that too many people live in an online fantasy world, surrounded only by those of like opinion.
On the other hand, we might even do the opposite; becoming so concerned with a particular humanitarian issue, that we lose sight of anything else.
We can learn much from nature and evolution. Our brains have developed to feed us the truth via some very clever consolidation. If we had to ‘listen’ to the vast amount of raw information coming at us from our senses, we would literally go insane. At the same time, evolution has gifted us some amazing ‘algorithms’ with which to evaluate the truth. If we have an arrow flying towards us, it’s no use arguing with some fanatic who says arrows don’t exist…
If the arrow is flying towards him and we’ve tried to issue a warning… well, evolution takes care of that, too…
It serves us well, I think, to value the truth so highly that we select a set of well-respected sources and be prepared to pay a small fee for their continued presence in the world. I do this with my online newspaper – The Guardian. Using such a source – and there are many – I can make a start in understanding the complexity of what I need to know. Were I to begin at the beginning, I’d never get there, alongside everything else I need to do in a day.
My online newspaper – my source of the truth – only works because there is another consolidation mechanism at work within its ranks: the journalist. Persecuted in many so-called societies across the world, these people, in ‘print’ and online news, bring a vast store of experience to their dedicated work, each contributing a deeply considered view that becomes a small part of an overall mechanism of transmitted truth – something seen as a continually refined goal, not a fixed object.
The truth is complex, but, so long as we have such people, we have one of human-nature’s mechanisms on our side. Let us treasure them wherever they are found; and make their assistance our starting point for our own knowledge of complex things.
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.