The Great Weirding of New Media

Our society has become dominated by new kinds of media. One one level, we have a return to the image, in replacing or subverting or altering the written word, by way of cable tv, 24/7 news, Youtube, numerous streaming services, etc. But that isn’t quite correct. Even as the image has retaken territory within the psyche and the media world, the 21st century has seen a simultaneous rise in the consumption of text. More books are being published now than ever before in history. That is on top of the endless and overwhelming stream of news articles, long-form essays, the blogosphere, social media, email, and texting. There are comment threads on Reddit that are so long that, if printed out, would fill an entire multi-volume encyclopedia.

All media has increased, as unmediated experience has gone on a rapid decline. Even when people are together physically and in person, there are quite likely to be multiple devices that are offering diversion and distraction. In the middle of a conversation or debate while sitting with friends at home or chatting with a coworker over lunch, someone is likely to settle an issue or answer a question or throw in a factoid by turning to their smartphone. All the world is at your fingertip; well, all the world that conforms to the constraints of new media. Our minds are constantly aflutter with both word and image, if not so much the direct human relating that defined humanity for so long. If media is the message, what does it mean to have all of this addictive, compulsive, and obsessive, immersive, and always accessible media?

There have been a number of scholars who have explored how changes in media are closely tied into changes in culture and mentality — there is Marshall McLuhan, Walter J. Ong, Julian Jaynes, and Jean Gebser, to name a few. All of them agreed that media has the power to destabilize and transform societies, but none of them had formed their theories in analyzing media in the 21st century. They were prescient in many ways, that is true. Still, I’m not sure any of them was able to come close in predicting the full extent and impact of what media would become in the not too distant future that we are now living in. How could they?

There is something strange about the internet, in particular. There is such an ease of access to other humans, in being able to talk with people anywhere in the world. Even for those who only speak one language like English, much of the world’s population can communicate with them. But this means most interactions online have an arbitrary or random quality about them, in that the price of admission is low. It can feel like there is little at stake. The connections made are usually fleeting with the people interacting likely never meeting again. The quality of sitting alone and silently with text on a screen has similarities to talking to oneself or being lost in one’s own thoughts — it creates shallow intimacy, a sense of sharing that is only words deep. Besides, such sharing is rarely reciprocated, as there is this constant reticence and pulling away from these shadowy others lurking at the periphery of one’s mind (personal space is amorphous, shifting, and porous when online; this can be unsettling).

The human desire to connect draws one in, but typically leaves one dissatisfied or worse. It creates social conditions that are extremely unnatural, distorting, and anxiety-inducing. So much of the normal context of interactions are removed, not only the sensory experience of lived perception and behavioral observations of being in the embodied presence of others but also the shared environmental and cultural context that offers cues, norms, roles, expectations, and such. Even videos, be it Youtube or Zoom, create an odd situation in the hyper-focus on the face; and seeing one’s own image while talking lends an agitating self-consciousness, as if one is performing on a stage.

Text without video isn’t better as it can lead to an insular unawareness of others, as if one is talking to oneself while the people on the other side of the screen aren’t quite present or, at best, that they are a mere audience to one’s monologue (this is magnified by the tendency of text to induce abstract thought, whether in how people get caught up in ideologies or in how they reify their ideas, in either case making it harder to differentiate between thought and reality). Along with anonymity, this is a probable contributing factor to disinhibition in people acting in ways and saying things they otherwise would not. If one expresses online that one’s feelings were hurt as one might do in normal life with a friend who said something unkind or careless, one is unlikely to receive sympathy or even acknowledgement, much less an apology and contrition — to expect any human warmth from other humans online is treated as naive, pathetic, and laughable. That is how low our standards have become.

The human quality that exists in almost any other situation is missing when people pull on the masks of their online identities. That latter issue is most apparent in a blog such as this. The blogger is an unknown entity, as is each new commenter. There is often a heavy guardedness to such interactions where everyone is ready to retreat, attack, or evade — sometimes a near total lack of the basic goodwill and casual trustfulness that is more common in person, the lack occasionally verging on paranoia about the intentions of the other. The internet can be a harsh and unforgiving social environment, a playground where our worst impulses are unleashed.

More often than one would prefer, people online say what they otherwise would not and in ways they would not if they were talking to a living, breathing, feeling person right in front of them. Such ways of treating others can come across as quite unfriendly, often passively indifferent and apathetically unsympathetic, but sometimes downright cruel or trollish, aggressive and confrontational. Yet at other times, one leaves a comment and gets no response at all, even when attempting to be friendly in inviting connection. And because of the practice of drive-by commenting, even responding to a comment won’t necessarily elicit dialogue. This kind of behavior of one-way talking would never happen in most other situations in life (Would you drive around your town yelling at strangers? Would you knock at people’s doors, blurt out your political opinions or pet theory, and then run away? Would you harangue and criticize random people at a store and then act shocked or outraged by their negative response? Would you stand on a street corner giving a monologue to a passing crowd about your relationship problems or the movie you just saw?). One-way behavior in general is indicative of power inequality where one has no social obligation or moral responsibility to the other who is perceived as inferior in value or of lesser position. This othering effect can be quite profound and disconcerting.

It’s not only strangers that are pulled into this great weirding of new media (the “great weirding” is related to what some refer to as the “global weirding”). Similar interactions or rather non-interactions happen with people one personally knows, including family. You text, email, or Facebook chat someone as a friendly gesture of conversation. Under normal conditions in talking face-to-face, this person you know would immediately acknowledge you said something and respond. But the social norms of relating well don’t translate outside of the directly interpersonal sphere. One loses count of how often no response is ever given, even when it shows the person viewed what you sent them. Could you imagine meeting your brother or a neighbor you’ve known for years, casually saying something to them as an easygoing conversation-starter, have them stand their silently as if you said nothing at all, and then watching them walk away as if you weren’t there? Yet that is the equivalent of what happens with new media on a regular basis. Most people don’t seem to recognize how utterly bizarre this is.

This lack of basic recognition of another’s humanity, of course, is far worse with those met online without any prior personal contact. Most of the internet is not people fighting but ignoring each other, as if people of different identities, views, and ways of speaking don’t matter or don’t exist. A large part of online commentary occurs with little or any response — it’s echos in the void, a vast seething swarm of humanity mostly talking to themselves or else to those who already agree with them, which is the same difference. That is how it can feel at times. Maybe this is why so many seek out conflict, simply to be acknowledged at all. This is how people can become trollish without consciously intending to do so. Trolling is often more of a mentality one falls into than an identity one embraces. Any attention can be good attention, to all those isolated individuals hidden behind their keyboards amidst the lonely masses in their not-always-quiet desperation.

We humans are social creatures — we need the social as we need air and water; we long for human contact and relationship. Here is the rub: Social conditions determine our social behavior. But millions of years of hominid evolution happened in a far different kind of environment than we’ve created in recent generations. Social behavior requires social input. Mindreading others (i.e., social cognition) requires the development of a mental map of others. This is called theory of mind, but there is an interesting and informed speculation. It appears that, as children, we develop a theory of mind of others before we develop a theory of mind for ourselves. That is to say our self-concept is a model that mirrors and internalizes our developing perception and understanding that comes through relationship. The other becomes the self. And so the others we are surrounded by are powerfully influential — as your mother told you, pick carefully who you associate with, including the strangers you interact with. “Let me explain,” writes Augustin Fuentes (Are We Really as Awful as We Act Online?).

“We’ve all heard the diet-conscious axiom “You are what you eat.” But when it comes to our behavior, a more apt variation is “You are whom you meet.” How we perceive, experience, and act in the world is intensely shaped by who and what surround us on a daily basis—our families, communities, institutions, beliefs, and role models. These sources of influence find their way even into our neurobiology. Our brains and bodies constantly undergo subtle changes so that how we perceive the world plays off of, and maps to, the patterns of those people and places we see as most connected to us. This process has deep evolutionary roots and gives humans what we call a shared reality. The connection between minds and experiences enables us to share space and work together effectively, more so than most other beings. It’s in part how we’ve become such a successful species.

“But the “who” that constitutes “whom we meet” in this system has been changing. Today the who can include more virtual, social media friends than physical ones; more information absorbed via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram than in physical social experiences; and more pronouncements from ad-sponsored 24-hour news outlets than from conversations with other human beings. We live in complicated societies structured around political and economic processes that generate massive inequality and disconnection between us. This division alone leads to a plethora of prejudices and blind spots that segregate people. The ways we socially interact, especially via social media, are multiplying exactly at a time when we are increasingly divided. What may be the consequences?

This is where new media short-circuits our normal cognitive and affective functioning. If we can’t fully experience the other with all of our senses, our ability to read them is crippled. Pushed to the extreme, our ability to read ourselves can also go offline as we go online. The signalling we depend on disappears and so might much of our self-awareness. The person on Twitter or wherever might not be an intentional asshole or troll. Rather, in a sense, they might be lashing out in social blindness. And the same goes for us. That is the thing about the internet. It creates the social conditions of social unawareness for people who likely have little ability to handle this well. Someone who spent their whole life blind can walk down a city street and not get run over. But put blindfolds on crowds of sighted people and they’ll be running into each other and they won’t be happy about it. Then imagine what happens when you also put blindfolds onto those driving the cars. Well, that is what the internet is like.

By the way, some studies indicate that internet trolls may not be as socially blind as some but they are psychologically deaf, in not emotionally hearing their targets and victims except in the most exaggerated forms of emotional response. Interestingly, though lacking affective empathy, trolls actually measured high on cognitive empathy, which is to say they understand human behavior well enough for purposes of manipulation while being emotionally numb to the consequences — to put it simply, they know where to jab the knife for greatest hurt (Evita March, Psychology of internet trolls). On the other hand, “trolls displayed low levels of emotional and social intelligence” (Neil Graney, Is internet trolling simply replacing the violence we used to see on the football terraces?). Trolls are both stupid and smart in relating to others — call them stupid-smart. The other person remains psychologically unreal to them and so they just don’t get what all the fuss is about (it’s all about the lulz). Keep in mind, though, that anyone can be prone to trolling, particularly when a precedent of trolling has been set in a particular situation (Justin Cheng et al, Anyone Can Become a Troll) — this is maybe why trolls seem to proliferate and take over comment threads. It’s a virulent mind virus.

Outright trolling behavior (Dark Tetrad: psychopathic, sadistic, narcissism, Machiavellian) aside, what we perceive as anti-social behavior may often be better understood as non-social behavior, that is to say normal responses to abnormal conditions. It’s a reality-warping effect. We become disconnected to a radically extreme degree because most of the key markers of reality perception are missing; and so we relate without fully relating, something we’ve all experienced in the regular irritations, conflicts, and miscommunications of the internet. What one sees on a screen might not feel psychologically and viscerally real, even as intellectually we know there are real people involved living real lives in the real world. This effect can be subtle in unconsciously creeping up on us after spending long periods on the computer or scrolling our smartphone, as is common these days between work and home. It can take immense effort of reality monitoring (combining self-awareness and social awareness) to counter this sense of derealization. About why this psychological slippage happens, Alan Martin wrote (Online disinhibition and the psychology of trolling):

“Psychologist John Suller wrote a paper on this in 2004, entitled “The Online Disinhibition Effect”, where he explored six factors that could combine to change people’s behaviour online. These are dissociative anonymity (“my actions can’t be attributed to my person”); invisibility (“nobody can tell what I look like, or judge my tone”); asynchronicity (“my actions do not occur in real-time”); solipsistic Introjection (“I can’t see these people, I have to guess at who they are and their intent”); dissociative imagination (“this is not the real world, these are not real people”); and minimising authority (“there are no authority figures here, I can act freely”). The combination of any number of these leads to people behaving in ways they wouldn’t when away from the screen, often positively — being more open, or honest — but sometimes negatively, abusing their fellow internet users in ways they wouldn’t dream of offline.

“Internet psychologist Graham Jones believes that to a certain extent the kind of aggressive behaviour often seen online happens in the real world. “Having said that, there is a feature of the online world that makes such negative behaviour more likely than in the real world,” he says. “In the real world people subconsciously monitor the behaviour of others around them and adapt their own behaviour accordingly… Online we do not have such feedback mechanisms. These feedback mechanisms can be body language, facial expressions or more obvious cues, but a recent study at the Univeristy of Haifa revealed that those who had to maintain eye contact were half as likely to be hostile as those who had the eyes hidden. The lead author of the study, Noam Lapidot-Lefler, believes this is because eye contact “helps you understand the other person’s feelings, the signals that the person is trying to send you.”

Some people are more skillful in handling this psychological crippling of online environments. They might have learned greater social intuition about personality and behavior from some kind of atypical life experience or professional training. Or because of some lucky combo of nature and nurture, they might’ve always been extraordinarily calm, accepting, gracious, and forgiving toward others. But for most of us, we continually bump into one another and then immediately blame the other, likely even giving them a good whack to teach them a lesson and complain mightily when they whack us back, that is if we manage to even slightly recognize and appreciate their humanity and existence. One might like to think that one is above average in interpersonal skills and moral character, unlike all those other social morons and lowly reprobates, but the fact of the matter is most people are not above average. And in the social blindness of the online world, the standard social ability of the average is already quite low.

It’s actually worse than described since, as the deficient social signaling can make us socially blind, we can be socially blind to the fact that we’re socially blind, not recognizing ourselves in the mirror of our own projections — a self-enclosed obliviousness and self-reinforcing obtuseness. Imagine all those normally sighted people with blindfolds on and not realizing they are blinded, going about their lives as if they could see. That causes much psychological confusion and interpersonal havoc, further exacerbating the sense of the great weirding and at times magnified to the level of the political and even geopolitical (President Donald Trump being the great example). Welcome to the new media world! Think of it as an opportunity for a steep learning curve. Keep all of this in mind. If you can recognize you’re in a situation of social blindness and surrounded by the socially blind, you are already ahead in the game. Maybe don’t react so quickly, withhold that initial impulse to judge, pause and take a breath. Maybe give the other person the benefit of the doubt and assume the best, as you’d like them to do for you. People sometimes just have bad days, even when the antagonism of new media weirding isn’t involved. Simply put, be kind and forgiving.

We are going to need all the compassion we can muster, as we move forward in this new media society of heavily mediated reality. The changes in media are going to happen faster and faster with impacts and consequences we won’t be able to imagine or predict. It’s guaranteed we won’t handle it well. The stress of society will fracture society even further. It’s possible that our society will survive the threats of collapse and eventually gain a new stability within this media paradigm, although social norms and functional ways of relating well will be slow to develop and take hold. It is highly doubtful that we will see the end of this transition in our lifetime, much less benefit from what might eventually be a positive change. We are in the middle of the storm — tighten the straps and hunker down.

Let’s end on a personal note. In this crazy online world, for those we’ve attacked, irritated, or unfairly judged, for those times we failed to treat others as we’d want to be treated, we apologize for our shortcomings as normal humans stuck in abnormal times. But we know we’re likely to continue to get stressed, anxious, and emotionally pulled into conflict; and so we also apologize in advance for our future wrongdoings and lack of needed understanding. We’ll try to do better, if that helps. In such difficult times, though, one’s best might not be good enough. So, we should be forgiving toward ourselves as well.

* * *

Here are a few things I came across while writing this post:

Here’s Why Internet Trolls Are So Good at Upsetting You, According to Science
by Minda Zetlin

Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People
by Chris Mooney

Psychopaths, Sadists, and the Lure of Internet Aggression
by Traci Stein

Loneliness moderates the relationship between Dark Tetrad personality traits and internet trolling
by KeitaMasui

Autonomic stress reactivity and craving in individuals with problematic Internet use
by Tania Moretta & Giulia Buodo

Internet “addiction” may fuel teen aggression
by Amy Norton

To end internet trolling, send everyone to a nice park

Over a quarter of Americans have made malicious online comments
by Jake Gammon

Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?
by Natalie Wolchover

We’re the reason we can’t have nice things on the internet
by Whitney Phillips

The Internet Is a Toxic Hellscape—but We Can Fix It
by Whitney Phillips

Weirding Diary
by Venkatesh Rao

The Internet of Beefs
by Venkatesh Rao

Crowds and Technology
by Renee DiResta

Status as a Service (StaaS)
by Eugene Wei

26 thoughts on “The Great Weirding of New Media

    • It’s definitely not the expression of someone speaking as a human about our shared problems as humanity, a humanity that includes all of us. Even when Jared Taylor speaks words that describe emotion, he shows no emotion.

      He looks like a person who has fully become the racist caricature that he once maybe only played as a role to manipulate others. But he lacks the charisma or the media presence to pull it off convincingly. He is simply saying what he knows his racist followers want to hear.

      • He’s a curious case in that I always wondered what drives him, and why he always talks like a bad actor or as you say, artificial and emotionless. But he has creepy eyes that’s all I know.
        This reminds me of this story:

        Made me wonder, how many alt-righters are people who feel like they’re in too deep that they have no way but to keep going? I don’t doubt that many are miserable as she noted of her ex, but when you’re in deep…

        I imagine why they’re not happy people is because that kind of lens and worldview is draining.

        • That is one hell of a long article. I started it and found it fascinating, but I’ll have to finish it later. It does make one wonder.

          I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who get pulled into extremist groups. Anyone can fall into various expressions of the reactionary mind without understanding the implications.

          That doesn’t stop me from judging such people, though. It’s just sad, that is all. One does not turn to such hateful ideologies because one is happy and well-adjusted.

        • I finally finished the article. It’s rather fascinating. I love seeing the personal angle, of what draws someone into hate. For her, she wasn’t born into a radical right-wing family, fundamentalist church, or whatever. Her father didn’t lose his job to illegal immigrants, she wasn’t raped by a black man, etc. It doesn’t seem anything bad happened to her when she was young. She simply felt like an outsider, which interestingly is a common experience for reactionaries as Corey Robin explains. It’s the perceived outsider status that allows them to not only take their various privileges for granted but, in their victimhood, it also gives a righteous edge to their attacks on others.

          She had no real grievances, which she admits in her having a change of heart from the Augustine passage. It was simply the imp of the perverse that drove her, a desire to wrong and hurt others just for the lulz. The good times wouldn’t last, though. There was a great description of how unhappy and trapped her boyfriend felt in the alt-right and how he tried to warn her away from going down the same path, but apparently she didn’t take him seriously. Did you notice this part? “This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.” That gets at something so important, that “titillating group shame”. Lewis Hyde argues that shame is what locks ideological social orders into place, which I always connect to Julian Jaynes’ argument that shame is central to modern ego-consciousness. I liked the following part too.

          “No one can be totally alone. Even if you’re hated by the majority of people, if you have kindred spirits cheering you on in the minority, you can survive. McHugh might have gone on longer if she hadn’t become toxic not only to the wider world but also to her alt-right former friends. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes about the way the lonely deduce the worst, and the way that totalitarian government “bases itself on loneliness, on the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man. … What makes loneliness so unbearable is the loss of one’s own self which can be realized in solitude, but confirmed in its identity only by the trusting and trustworthy company of my equals.” White nationalism thrives on the loneliness of the disaffected; McHugh’s own loneliness aided her escape — but with the help of the two friends.”

          That reminds me of something that has been on my mind for years. There is a close association between hyper-individualism and authoritarianism (as seen in the right-wing marriage of libertarianism and fundamentalism), in how both create a certain kind of anxiety, disconnection, and loneliness. But also how authoritarianism is internalized as the tyrannical self-control of a demiurgic ego. Pushed to the extreme, this dynamic is particularly powerful in the reactionary mind and can really fuck people up. Under such an ideological system, normal human relationships and communal bonds are distorted and manipulated. It’s simply not a happy place to be, but unfortunately this has come to describe the experience of so many in our modern anxiety-driven society. Hence, why the reactionary mind has become so widespread, including among liberals.

        • Derrick Jensen wrote many books about the victimization cycle. Some people who are victimized grow up to defend other victims and fight for them, but that isn’t always the case with the life trajectory of victims. If you look at most victimizers, they were victimized when they were younger.

          This is caused by unresolved and repressed trauma that gets projected onto others. And this relates to the outsider status. This young lady felt like an outsider, as did Edmund Burke in being a Catholic Irishman in Protestant England. But did this perceived outsider status, real or imagined, cause her to identify and sympathize with other outsiders, in particularly those much further outside like poor minorities, immigrants, etc? Nope. Quite the opposite.

          Instead, she sought an in-group that would accept her so that she could victimize, bully, and attack those those weaker than her. The rhetoric of the traditional right and alt-right are about being strong, but this is often motivated by an unacknowledged sense of weakness, inferiority, or vulnerability. The anxiety of it is too much to bear because no one taught them the psychological skills to deal with it, as also they somehow failed to find a more healthy way to belong.

          The reactionary mind is built on a lack of self-awareness. That is both it’s strength in reveling in its own shamefulness. But ultimately, it is also the reactionary’s Achille’s heel. No matter how much one represses and projects one’s trauma, it will always erupt in unhappy dysfunction for the individual.

          Sure, that individual can also make other people’s lives hellish in the process, such as in an oppressive society where racial and class privileges bring real harm to the most oppressed and victimized. But causing other people suffering doesn’t lessen one’s own suffering. There is no way to escape that fact. And what is pushed into the shadow will always return with a vengeance.

          McHugh learned this lesson a bit late. She had to hurt herself and many others around her before the miserable self-destructiveness of it became undeniable. It’s interesting that her right-wing reactionary boyfriend was becoming aware of this and, in warning her, tried to save her from this fate. So few people can take such warnings seriously and end up having to learn the hard way.

          It would be nice if we had a way of preventing such anti-social insanity before it destroys lives. We talk about prevention of STDs, unwanted births, drug addiction, crime, etc. So, why don’t we have public debate about prevention of the reactionary mind, specifically with the dangers of right-wing authoritarianism? The reactionary mind poses a greater threat to a healthy and free society than all the rest combined.

        • The more that I think about it I’ve come to a strong conclusion. All citizens, both children and adults, should have mandatory classes about psychology, social science, anthropology, race studies, intersectionality, social constructionism, propaganda/rhetoric studies, intro to logic and critical thinking, and history of authoritarianism and reactionary thought (combined with a history of democracy). While we’re at it, to be on the safe side, we’d need classes on the history of American slavery, eugenics, genocide, imperialism, post-colonialism, etc.

          This wouldn’t require a separate class for each subject and maybe combining some of them would be most effective. For children, this would be part of the standard education system during grade school. Even private schools would be required to teach these mandatory classes. For adults already out of school and for new immigrants, there would be alternatives available at state universities, community colleges, public libraries, online websites, or even materials mailed to individuals with testing done at some local site.

          Failing or refusing to take any of these classes might have limited direct consequences, except maybe for certain areas of government employment, government contracts, and government benefits. Still, non-compliance or insufficiency in meeting class requirements wouldn’t nullify voting rights, access to basic public services, freedom to travel, or anything similar. But all of your class tests, papers, and presentations would be publicly available in order to encourage accountability in everyone taking seriously this learning opportunity. And your status in taking these tests would be published in the local media and made available on local government websites.

          The right-wingers can call it indoctrination if they want and no one is required to believe what they’re taught and would be free to argue against it or otherwise protest it. Nonetheless, the classes will still be mandatory for gaining or maintaining full standing as a citizen and member of respectable society. To refuse wouldn’t negate one’s citizenship, although it might curtail certain non-essential rights, privileges, resources, and opportunities; specifically those involving public funding. We can work out the details. The consequences might be more along the lines of how one’s education level limits one’s employment opportunities, in that employers would be legally allowed to not hire you based on your status, but that is already the case for jobs requiring a high school degree, college degree, etc.

          These classes would be considered a rudimentary level of being part of an educated and informed citizenry. For the low IQ and learning disabled, alternative programs would be provided to teach and instill tolerance, respect, appreciation, etc for diversity. There are many ways this could work out while maintaining the basic civil rights of even those who wanted to protest with civil disobedience. But the main point is that a healthy, functioning democracy could only exist with a strong underpinning of an traditional liberal arts education.

      • That makes me think of that alt-right guy that married a 22 year old when he was 60. I shouldn’t judge but that age differential is just creepy. The thing is that 22 year old doesn’t come from an alt-right background, she is the only alt-righter in the family. It just makes me think of grooming even if both are legal. I’m mid-20’s now, and 18-22 even compared to mid-20’s is a baby developmentally, very impressionable and vulnerable. The brain is still developing. That and the wife dosen’t look very happy in recent pics.

        • That is a good quote. It captures the mood of major societal shifts. Sometimes changes are so profound that we can’t predict the future based on the trends of the past. The whole world can simply spin off at a tangent.

  1. Here is an observation about the change in the internet. The problems with new media were there from the beginning, but it was less obvious and there wasn’t as much discussion about it. In the early internet, there were simply fewer people online and those online were a more select group of people. There were lots of small niches of the likeminded that most people gravitated to.

    Back in the early Aughts, that is when I began spending more time online. It was also when I first began blogging. It felt like a more casual and personal way of expressing oneself, more akin to journaling. I didn’t even moderate my comments for many years, simply trusting that people would leave generally positive and worthwhile commentary. It never occurred to me there was something to be concerned about.

    So, for many years, the people I met in the comments section of this blog and other blogs were mostly friendly. In fact, I made some long-term friends that I still have and regularly talk to. I don’t recall much trollishness or pointless conflict. Even 4Chan was barely known back then. The extremes of dysfunctional behavior were far less apparent and common.

    Then the alt-right became a force to be reckoned with and right-wing media, including the corporate giants like Fox News, gave the alt-right a megaphone. The Tea Party became funded and co-opted not only by right-wing loons and militants but also by the billionaire class of political elites and puppetmasters who had in the decades prior pushed their radicalized culture wars and politicized religiosity.

    The trolls went from a mere annoyance and curiosity to a threat to our civil society and culture of trust. Social media also increasingly gave platforms to powerful manipulators, both foreign and domestic. The internet suddenly became an ideological, political, and economic battlezone. The mass derangement that followed didn’t remained limited to the extremists of the reactionary right, as it has spilled out in all directions.

    The sense of endless conflict has become normalized and our entire society feels on edge. One can feel this underlying tension in everything. A cousin I like blocked me on FB because he disagreed with my support of the protests. I realize this side of my family is known for its grudges, but now this kind of bad feeling can be taken to a whole new level. How am I supposed to relate to this cousin when I go to the next family reunion?

    It makes me feel sad and tired. I’m not sure I have what it takes to deal with it all. I find myself increasingly retreating into my own private world. In my personal blog, I can control who is allowed in. But if I venture out into the big bad world of the online Wild West, you never know from which direction you might be attacked. Even people you thought you were on good terms with suddenly turn on you. It’s war of all against all.

    Well, that simply isn’t how I want to live my life. I’ve been down the road of depression and irritability, of constantly judging others and fighting for one reason or another, often with rationalizations for why I was doing so. I just don’t want to be a part of that anymore. But it feels so impossibly challenging. I might have to disconnect from the internet entirely and become a hermit. I always had fantasies about the life of a hermit, a peaceful life away from all the problems and skirmishes of ‘civilization’.

    • This is me being critical. But obviously, I wouldn’t be online if I didn’t get something out of it. I just might spend more time on my blog and leave the rest of the internet alone, specifically in terms of commenting. In general, I’ve found social media dissatisfying. Other than the FB groups for Julian Jaynes, I don’t find much reason to be on social media.

      Beyond my gripes, I don’t have any grand issues with the new media. It just is what it is. If not for how global weirding crosses over into biosphere destruction and instability, I wouldn’t claim that the media technology by itself is worse than prior eras of change such as the movable type printing press that rocked the world at the time. Major points of tumultuous change don’t tend to be happy and easy.

      I’m definitely not a luddite, although I don’t fall into technophilia either. I’m rather neutral on the matter, but admittedly I enjoy many of the advantages of new media. My mind, in many ways, operates like the internet. Even before I knew what a hyper link was, my brain operated through the equivalent of hyperlinks. It’s part of my “learning disability”, in that my rote memory sucks and I can only recall info by way of connections.

      So, the internet was a boon for me in more ways that I can count. I love the endless flow of info, the access to immense knowledge. I also love, despite my misgivings, the way the internet allows connections. I’m not only able to discover new authors and thinkers but oftentimes to directly speak with them. As an introvert, I can sit at home and experience the world, even if it isn’t the “real world”.

      About changes going on, I might speculate that the present protest movement wouldn’t have happened without new media. The protest movement against the Iraq War also went global in becoming the largest protest movement up to that point. Now the present protest movement, also having gone global, is surely even larger. Both of these protest movements happened in this new technological era of the 21st century and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

      These changes are not going to be contained, at least not any time soon. Even wealthy China is struggling to control such unwieldy technological innovations that were never designed for authoritarian governance. As we struggle as individuals, so do governments, corporations, and other institutions and organizations grapple with what to do with the sense of disruption at multiple levels.

      It’s interesting times. Some minor spats and bad feelings online are the least of our troubles. But on a personal level it sure can suck dealing with the stress of it all. And the personal level does matter, as everything else is built upon it. It is the personal in which we humans experience the world and live our lives.

    • Here is the thing. New media is disorienting. But following a period of disorientation, society will eventually become reoriented. New media likely will lead to much else that is new, possibly a new culture, social order and mentality.

      It might take generations or centuries for it to fully take hold, though. The period of disorientation could last longer than we might prefer, in that we may never live to see the reorienting. We’ll get all the pain and later generations, assuming civilization survives, might get the gain.

    • Here might be a greater concern. How the new media technology structures our experience affects our thought, perception, and behavior while using it. But the influence might be far greater than we appreciate.

      As mediated reality increasingly replaces unmediated reality, this will increasingly bleed over into everyday life. The habits of mind, of communicating and relating that we develop in using it won’t remain limited to the computer, tablets, smartphones, and other devices.

      I have sensed this change in myself and I worry it hasn’t necessarily been a net gain. I’m not sure I’m a better person in how I treat others or in how I treat myself by way of the patterns of self-talk I’ve internalized from my online experience.

    • About my last comment directly above, I totally forgot about something I posted a while back. It was simply a sharing of the views of two others that resonated with me. The title of it refers to Julian Jaynes work, but neither of the pieces of writing I shared from referred to Jaynes. The connection was obvious to my mind, though. Basically, what these two people wrote about was how we internalize voices in this age of new media. But an observation was how this happens subtly without our awareness or thought. Voices playing on a podcast, in particular, sneak past our psychological defenses, as if they are our own voice(s). They can permanently alter our thoughts and identity.

      This is neither good nor bad, not inherently. The changes happening now are akin in scale and depth to the changes from the bicameral mind to egoic consciousness. Humans remain human, but what voices we hear and how we hear them determines so much that we take as reality (this relates to the ideological realism I wrote about in my post, Democratic Realism, following this one; I made a similar point in both posts about being careful about who we associate/interact with or turn into opponents/enemies — in the way we also should be discerning to the voices we listen to — for that frames what we become, and that process is heavily influenced by the media we use). Authorization is the source of power within the psyche. This is now being irrevocably altered. So, many rightfully are pointing out that a change is happening, some excited about it and others worried. The same thing happened in the Axial Age with the likes of Socrates complaining about the newfangled written texts that were replacing the archaic oral tradition.

      Socrates was right in that it doomed the world he loved so much and replaced it with something else. Yet here we are. Most of us born into this society would not choose to return to Socrate’s beloved orality. The thing is it is always a trade-off. The gains can be great but so can the costs. The exact trade-off that began during that earlier era has taken millennia for us to appreciate. It might be another few millennia before we realize what we’ve set into motion with new media technology. The medium is the message, but more important the message as voice of authorization shapes our sense of reality and identity. That is one helluva a ‘message’.

    • It’s as depraved as it is idiotic.

      Did they think these protesters would be publicly shamed for protesting based on their principles of democracy, freedom, fairness, civil rights, justice, etc? What did they hope to achieve by publishing the names of people who apparently weren’t afraid of being named?

      It doesn’t come across as a particularly intelligent strategy. It just brings down hate down upon them and possibly legal actions.

    • Steven Sailer is particularly pathetic. His routine at this point is extremely tired and tiresome. I’d think these alt-right “thought leaders” would get bored at repeated the same old rhetoric, no matter how much their low-IQ followers eat it up.

      That is why I gave up on the HBD crowd. There arguments were mostly repetitive just-so stories and I simply found myself bored with their lack of originality. They should at least come up with something new to spice up their racism.

      Maybe that is why the alt-right is in decline, in that everyone has gotten bored with them. That could explain some of the defectors as well. The excitement of being part of a reactionary vanguard has to wear away after a while. When racism becomes your day job, it would become tedious drudgery.

    • That reminds me of a quote Corey Robin got from an interview with William F. Buckley. About the conservative obsession with economics, he admitted that, “Devoting your life to it is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.” That is to say it became boring.

      There is nothing the reactionary mind hates more than boredom. That is the reason they are constantly trying to create melodrama. But after a while that gets hard to do when one throws out the same cliches and groupthink talking points for the thousandth time.

  2. The Jaynesian egoic consciousness of WEIRD culture has still been on our mind. We’re constantly surprised by how pervasive it is. We’ve been interacting online with some fairly radical or at least atypical alt-leftist thinkers, specifically metamodernists, who are far above average in intelligence, education, knowledge, insight, and discernment. Yet we’ve noticed how easily even they fall back on the conventional egoic individualism of the propertied self and Jaynesian consciousness (as opposed to the bundled mind and 4E cognition of dividuals and hypersubjects within complex mind-body-world ecosystems and biosphere).

    It’s so deeply indoctrinated and enculturated within us as part of social constructionism and social constructivism. We explored this in our post about the enclosure of mind, in how the bounded ego-self is structured within the infrastructure and hyperstructure of the constructed world we constantly build, maintain, and enforce. Intellectual understanding of isolated individuals, no matter how great, is not enough to counter the force of an entire civilizational project that has been built up over millennia of pathway dependence.

    We have no idea what is useful means and effective strategy in confronting what operates unconsciously, pervasively, and systemically. This is a far far far deeper problem than even the entrenched culture of racial bias, as most anti-racists can’t imagine the radical possibility that most humans for most of human existence did not possess or rather were not possessed by a possessive egoic mentality; in spite of the fact that this kind of propertied self has been inextricably linked to the history of systemic racism with its history of slavery, forced labor, and social control.

    At the very least, we need to begin talking differently. We should force to the surface of the public mind the unconscious and unstated assumptions, the unchallenged and unquestioned biases that form the foundation of our civilization. What we are noticing is how this comes up in conversation and debate. We can’t radically imagine new ways (or reimagine old ways) of relating because our mind-body-world experience is so contained and constrained, to such a degree we don’t realize we are in a prison of our own making with the key to the lock held in our own hand. We each separately beat the bounds of our private prison cells.

    Let’s give the recent incidents that got us thinking. We are attracted to metamodernism because key thinkers involved offer some of the most incisive and far-reaching critiques we’ve so far come across. So, we joined some leftist metamodern groups in hoping to find out if they really were onto something vital. But we quickly realized these non-community online communities were engulfed in the same online weirdness and unpleasantries. Worse still, the group administrators didn’t seem able or willing to seek something else or acknowledge there was a problem.

    In two groups, we experienced the typical online tension, antagonism, and aggression. One might interpret it as an ungrounded hyper-masculinity, now that we think about it. Indeed, the individuals we experienced conflict with appeared to be both males, so we think (it’s hard to always be sure online); and we definitely know the administrators as public figures are male. Maybe part of the problem is a male-dominated culture, specifically as filtered through hyper-individualistic social Darwinian culture of constant contest and conflict.

    We decided to leave one group shortly after joining it. But we wanted to let the administrator know our reasons, for whatever it is worth. His response was simply to tell us that he just blocks people when they irritate him enough or cause him problems. Although an effective method for making someone disappear from one’s experience, this hardly seems like an inspiring example of how to build community and seek an alternative way of organizing society toward a more leftist communitarianism of social democracy, democratic socialism, or whatever.

    In feeling dissatisfied, we sent a message to the original metamodern leftist we connected with. He is also an administrator of a different group. Having been in conflict with the other administrator, maybe in having been blocked by him, this other guy was critical of that approach and stated he was against blocking people on principle. Instead, he argued that people needed to grow a ‘thicker skin’ and I know he was taking a jab at me, since I had just told him that I tend toward emotional sensitivity. I didn’t take it personally, but it was demoralizing.

    In both cases, it felt like yet more failure of moral imagination and authentic human engagement. Were those really the only two options I was being given from two different takes on the supposed radical possibility expressed by the emergent communities of leftist metamodernism? Either I technologically and externally block others or psychologically and internally block them. But there was no suggestion about how a community could communally support, promote, encourage, incentivize, structure, enculturate, model, teach, ensure, enforce, and maintain communal identity, order, values, and norms.

    The two answers we received left everything at an individual level with no hope of promoting and supporting better relating at the level beyond the individual. Basically, these people have effectively, if not consciously and intentionally, given up on building a sense of community with shared identity and shared purpose. And yet these people are far above average in understanding the problems we face. These same people would not make such recommendations about how to relate well in normal life. Nor would they tolerate such social dysfunction and disruption in a real world group or organization they belonged to. In their everyday life, they’d immediately realize how insane is the advice they were giving. And it would be obvious that group cohesion is impossible under such conditions.

    Could you imagine being in a business where, when you went to the boss about a problematic coworker, you were told to simply walk away from the person, mentally block them, and pretend they didn’t exist? Or could you imagine going to a church service where obviously unhappy or mentally ill people stood at the front talking over the minister and dominating everyone’s attention while the church leadership sat there and did nothing? Or how about a support group like AA where one or even several people were always complaining, criticizing, nitpicking, etc and then getting defensive when confronted while everyone else sat their in silent frustration? This is what happens all the time online and almost no seems able to see how bizarre this is.

    Part of that has to do with our studies in realizing how weird is WEIRD culture. That is particularly seen among the Western middle-to-upper classes that dominate our society; including many of the leaders, administrators, moderators, activists, etc of integral, metamodern, and leftist groups and organizations. It is a highly unusual minority that is determining what is ‘normal’ within the ‘mainstream’. This has clarified in our mind the problem of a society where the majority has been suppressed and silenced. Looking at polling data, it’s obvious that the average American doesn’t want to accept this madness, conflict, and dysfunction. The average American is far to the left of the middle-to-upper class elites.

    On some level, most people realize our present social problems are far from normal. And it’s those in the lower classes that experience the problems most strongly, to a point they can’t pretend they don’t exist. Simply blocking people, internally or externally, might work fine for the economically comfortable and secure. But for the rest of us we don’t have the choice to stand above it all. Without a doubt, there is a class component to it. Those two leftist metamodern administrators are highly educated and middle class. They have much more control over their own lives and personal space, but they don’t see the privileges they possess in maintaining such a psychological disconnection.

    That is why we often pinpoint high inequality as the ultimate problem that defines all else. There is not only the inequality of wealth. As or more important is inequality of power, influence, representation, platforms of speech, free time, autonomy, legal rights, police protection, comfortable lifestyle, economic security, stress-free environments, quality education, resources, opportunities, healthcare, nutritious food, clean air and water, green spaces, etc. Such disparate privilege is all encompassing to the point it encloses the privileged in a reality tunnel that disconnects them from most others in the society around them.

    They don’t have to see, feel, or experience so much of the extreme degrees of struggle, conflict, and suffering that are plaguing the lower classes. Their advice about psychological disconnection simply doesn’t apply to most people who are forced to live in the muck of it all. Here is my conclusion. Everything comes down to public health. And, one way or another, high inequality is the single greatest defining feature of our modern health crisis. Many leftist metamodernists understand this intellectually. But because so many of them are isolated in their relative privilege, they don’t quite viscerally feel the reality of it and so can’t see what it means for the average person on the ground.

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