Sympathy for Luddites

Social media creates an illusion that the world is wrapped in layers of information. We start to think and act in accordance with the idea that reality involves posting photos of ourselves, seeing what our friends did on holiday and writing about what we’re thinking. When we abstain from doing this after some years, the world feels like a claustrophobic dream in which everything that happens takes place inside your mind alone, an exhilarating thought that this and only this is your life.

Carrying the world-as-information in our pockets, it’s tempting to believe that what we experience when we watch a sunset or listen to birds arguing in treetops is only part of reality. The other part, we assume, is the part that can be quantified digitally and reproduced. However, these reproductions are a shadow cast by something no longer there. No comparison is possible between the image of an ocean sunset and the reality, unless we reduce the reality to an intention to photograph and share our experience. We should always entertain the possibility that reality is only what is here now, and that this is not reducible.

Another stealth effect of social media websites is the way in which they exacerbate our sense of self. They invite us to write a definitive bio to describe ourselves, frequently in the space of a few sentences. We quantify our friends, close friends, organise people into lists, promote our doings and cleverness, give our relationships their proper labels. All of this information may be true in a narrow sense but made concrete it becomes a castle in the clouds, far removed from the person who is actually living in one moment in time and changing all the time.