I am often touched, more often confounded, by the alacrity with which we share the most intimate details of our lives on social networking sites. We proudly show and tell – our holiday pictures, our new kitten, what we ate last night. Share our plans for the weekend. We fervently express our frustrations, share our delights, our heartbreaks, in the safety of cyberspace. We are relational creatures. And social networking sites give us a safe illusion of community, of friendship, even love, without the messy bits we inevitably encounter in the flesh. We are attracted by bright shiny things – what’s trending, what’s new. And just like in our often messy “real lives”, how often do we pause to question, think, pay attention, before we accept someone else’s version of “the truth”. As we chatter unceasingly, like birds on a wire, how often do we question the hive mind? Ask ourselves, “is this really true?”
The Buddhist term, Monkey Mind, means “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. It is our insatiable curiosity, our restless minds that both sanctify and bedamn our humanness.
In my quest for what lies beneath, my Monkey Mind seized “The Filter Bubble”, which offers Eli Pariser’s appraisal of a silent revolution which will have far-reaching implications for each one of us… until we choose differently. With no fanfare, as Saturn squared Pluto on December 4th, 2009, Google began personalising its search results to each user. Like jellyfish, we floated benignly into the Bubble. Few people paused to absorb the implications and far-reaching repercussions of a world that will be shaped to fit like a suit of armour. A world where we may think we have choice, but where we go through the motions of our lives, reacting to stimuli like Pavlov’s unfortunate dog. The “personalised search for everyone” now flourishes in a world where so many of us feel unimportant, invisible, unloved, and where now there is someone out there who suggests what we would like to buy, where we would like to eat, tells us what we should be doing next. Google now tracks every move you make, from where you were logging into yesterday to what browser you were using, to make guesses as to what sites you’d like…even if you are logged out. For now, Google says it will keep our personal data to itself, in the feeding frenzy for highly profitable personal data, other companies are gobbling up our credit ratings, the medication we use, the music, movies, sport and holidays we enjoy.
Our monkey minds have created a deluge of information, so the allure of The Ark is a safe bet in a rising ocean of crashing stimuli. By 2014 we’ll need new units of measurement, new power plants to cope with the deluge of blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates, and emails that ricochet into cyberspace every single day. Two years ago, Google chairman, Eric Schmidt claimed that in 2003 we were creating as much data every two days as had been recorded between the dawn of civilisation. That torrent of data is accelerating faster now.
Most of us naively assume that when we Google something we all see the same results, but since December 2009, this is no longer true in the “Filter Bubble”. Algorithmic observers watch our every click. Search engines are biased through our narrow lens of perception, so we see through the one way mirror darkly our own preferences and prejudices reflected back to us. As our attention deficit focus flickers through the swirling sea of information – we sink comfortably into a custom-made world that is inhabited by our favourite people, palatable ideas. We sit back as all the potentially disturbing bits fade away, we we all live happily ever after in Pleasantville. Even our choice of language is confined to the banal, and subjective, “like”. So we “like” a friend’s post to bump up visibility. And with the same limited choice of word, would we “like” the atrocities in Syria?
Says Eli Pariser,…“my sense of unease crystallised when I noticed that my conservative friends had disappeared from my Facebook page. Politically, I lean to the left, but I like to hear what conservatives are thinking, and I’ve gone out of my way to befriend a few and add them as Facebook connections. Their links never turned up in my Top News feed…Facebook is doing the calculations and noting our links, deciding what to show us and what to hide… Proof of climate change might bring up different results for an environmental activist and an oil company exec.” No more chance encounters, no more jarring collisions of ideas or cultures.
Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, claims that Facebook may be the biggest source of “news” in the world. With ominous bravado, he announces, “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa,” And some sources say 36 percent of Americans under the age of 30, garner their “news” from social networking sites. Are we regressing into a “global village” where we stay behind our fibre optic screens, wary of strangers? Where we interact only with those who share our world view, bolster our biased beliefs. Like little children we go out to play, while the Cyclops stare of our new iPhone watches where we go, knows who we call, what movies we like, what we read… Are we doing a lot of talking, with scant connection beyond the narrow niche of self-interest? We can, to a certain degree, choose to buy a certain newspaper, or watch a certain news channel, knowing that the editorial team’s bias suits our perception. We can choose not to have a Facebook account or an iPhone. But for me, that would be like denying the invention of the wheel. Byron Katie says, “placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience. Taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them.”
Perhaps our liberation lies in the mercurial brilliance of our Monkey Minds to investigate our own filter bubbles where we live with our own stories. To pause, consider, before we become anesthetised by the lack of oxygen in our own biased beliefs. To be discerning, aware, of what words and images we imbibe. Says Byron Katie, “An uncomfortable feeling is not an enemy. It’s a gift that says, get honest; inquire.” We will not see the bad moon rising, unless we choose to.
Photography by Tacit Requiem – Full Moon Rising