The problem of reality and internet

Reality is a very difficult concept to grasp. First of all, there is the big question whether reality is something that actually exists or not. Those who claim that reality is something always subjective, along with its interpretation, and those who claim that there are always some things that are objective.

Nevertheless, the point I want to discuss about, is the fact that reality has become a problem in these recent days. The main issue here, has to do with internet, and how it has shaped our life.

It is not a secret to say that internet is often offering to us a fake view of the reality; the clearest example might be Instagram (and all the social media), where many of those super happy and successful people online, are in reality lonely and unhappy. This is something we all know.

So what is that we don’t all know?

We don’t all know that most of what is written online, does not reflect the truth. Example: you google “what is the best VPN?”. Immediately you get hundreds of articles in the results, with opinions and charts that look very deep and well developed. But almost all the time, the top 3 VPNs are always the same, for every article you read. How is that possible? Maybe those three VPNs are actually the best (trying to convince yourself).

Or maybe here’s why: All the people who are writing articles, are receiving a commission for each person that clicks in the links connected to a certain service. This is called referral programs. It might seem obvious, but referral programs are the hidden layer behind everything; what’s the best online bank account? What’s the best antivirus? What’s the best face cream? And so on, and so on…

Amazon has built its empire thanks to referral programs. Every time you read about a great program, you always find an Amazon link for purchase. Even the reviews inside Amazon, are often driven by referral programs.

So, we know that what you read online is often biased. What else?

What you read online might actually be scam. Or troll. Or bot. This is something we probably know, but we underestimate. It is scary to imagine how much spam and bots are actually populating the World Wide Web. 45% of all the emails sent, are all spam. What about bots? On Twitter only, nearly 50 millions users are bots. The list goes long if we take into account Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and so on. Bots and trolls are easily manipulating discussions online, driving people towards extreme idealisms, often refusing every narration from mass media.

Is it wrong to doubt the main narration of mass media? No, because every brilliant mind has to be able to doubt. However, when doubts are actually manipulated by a hidden hand, in order to drive the public debate, it gets very scary. We tend to loose our only sense of reality: doubting a main narration is the only way to establish a rhythm of thoughts that keeps a society healthy. However, poisoning the ability to doubt, kills that rhythm that is essential for people to develop their freedom.

Now I want to get a bit philosophical

Some sociologists are saying that reality is exclusively social. For instance, if one person says that Jesus appeared in the sky, he will probably be considered as a fool, as opposed to what would happen if 100 people that are claiming the same thing.

However, the erosion of reality that is happening on the internet, is not completely social, but rather tied to an objective appearance of how things are: internet is made of numbers and bits and represents a world in which humans are the only God. Internet is populated by the ghosts of our society: if we take this vision to the extreme, we end up inside the dystopian world described by Blade Runner, where cynicism, porn and alienation are the leitmotif.

Iconic scene from blade runner

In the world of Blade Runner, where humans and replicants are almost indistinguishable from one-another (and mankind has shaped every angle of the world), the main rhetorical question is exactly what is real and what is not?Today we can be hunted by the same question every time we read something on the internet, because nothing feels truly authentic, as we cannot even trust the platforms we are using (like a person that cannot not trust the floor in which he is standing). But weren’t we supposed to be the only God inside internet? Pretty paradoxical right?

As we speak about authenticity, it becomes urgent to achieve an understanding of what does authenticity actually stand for. Roughly speaking, we could say that “authentic” is in opposition of what is virtual: the natural world in which we were born. You may look at a landscape and know that it feels authentic; but here’s the catch: authenticity is something that cannot be defined, it can only be felt.

In a love story, the authenticity that grows between two people is always something that is felt, and cannot be defined. This ability to “feel” goes along with the fact that each one of us has a “private” mind where thoughts cannot be “read” if they are not externalized by body. It may sound pretty obvious, but what we call “feeling”, is related to our ability of interpreting all the signs of the other “body” (along with the context), both verbal and non-verbal. It’s a skill we developed with our first instincts. It’s what helps us to recognize an enemy or a friend.

On the internet, we cannot read anything that goes beyond the text written by the other person. Therefore, there is no ability to feel, and eventually, there is no authenticity, since we can never “feel” who is behind the screen.

This sense of unknown is always with us, when we go in internet. Imagine to spend months on chatting with a nice looking person and eventually discovering that he/she doesn’t exist. Living in internet means dealing with a constant meta-reality, in which things are objective (because of the strict numerical essence) and unknown (because there is no feel) at the same time.