Strong Silent Types: Evil Robots and Their Way with Words

The Death of Subjectivity

WikiLeaks has made us all think. Perhaps it has made us all think too much. Having just created a blog about human behaviour and the internet, I was instantly enthused by the breaking news story which, still rolling, appeared days after I launched this website. I submerged myself in the Guardian's reportage, which glimmered with a 21st Century journalistic flair. The seal had been broken, the truth would come out.

But as the comment pieces and analyses went flying, from every conceivable news source and every conceivable spectator, the magnitude of the story began to overtake the reality of what it really meant. Similar, in fact, to the excitement over publishing the leaks in the first place - an excitement which often refuses to objectively acknowledge the implications of the leaks' content. Articles hysterically defending the impact of the scoop, for being a scoop, continue to flow.

This material flooded through the web towards me and, I admit, I struggled. I struggled to keep up. I thought of a comment piece I might write for this blog on some WikiLeaks-related issue only to find that it had already been written, many times over, and debunked just as many, in every corner of the web. I trudged on and repeated the same pattern many times, eventually conceding that there was little I could hope to say about WikiLeaks that could be of original value to anyone except in one or two small areas wherein I allowed myself a platform to speak.

Friends continue to heatedly debate the value of the megaleak and I find myself convincing them of why it's so important, making decisive statements, even though my own opinions feel as though they are in a rapid state of flux.

And now, as an 'army' of anonymous hackers launches digital skirmishes at websites and organisations unfriendly towards Assange's magnum opus, the sense of an active hive mind is stronger than ever. We cannot hope to plumb the depths of rationality behind these actions, though many may indeed believe that a clear logic underpins their motives, why shouldn't they. The point is that that doesn't really seem to matter any more.

As we are told of the importance of things, imperatively, unequivocally, we slowly acquiesce and implicitly agree to be assimilated into the hive mind ourselves. Free Assange? Free yourself. Try the introspective approach Jaron Lanier suggests in You are not a Gadget:

One might ask, "If I am blogging, twittering and wikiing a lot, how does that change who I am?" or "If the ‘hive mind' is my audience, who am I?"

Humanity, historically speaking, is no stranger to the ebb and flow of mob mentality, but now the internet galvanises us in our bedrooms and at work, through our iPhones and our online conversations. American author Gary Shteyngart recently wrote an essay for the New York Times Sunday Book Review in which he lamented the imposition of the discourse of the internet on his 'real-world' life. In every facet, in every moment, the ubiquity of the web has begun to re-organise his experience of consciousness itself. And in a review of Shteyngart's latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, which deals with similar themes, Alice Gregory voiced her own sense of self-decay and frustration with the peer pressure the hive mind exerts upon us. "It's hard not to think "death drive" every time I go on the internet," she explains, "Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me."

Individual responses to art, politics, news stories, and WikiLeaks, might still be found in erudite-sounding comment pieces published in national newspapers, but collectively, since we all access everything much more adamantly than we ever have done before, the idea of individual responses is beginning to fall away. Gregory writes about how this relentless levelling of thought pervades even the simplest human experience:

There are fewer official reviews of novels lately, but there are infinitely more pithily captioned links on Facebook, reader-response posts on Tumblr, punny jokes on Twitter. How depressing, to have a book you just read and loved feel so suddenly passé, to feel-almost immediately-as though you no longer have any claim to your own ideas about it.

Instead, we are tasked with catching up with everybody else. We feel the heat of the noosphere's frictional energy, and long, subconsciously, to soak it up. It is the realisation of a dark admission that human thought could always have been described this way, as individually deficient or limited, but now the internet is making it obvious. Subjectivity is increasingly defined as a side-effect, not something which is fundamental. And we are learning how to anaesthetise it rapidly. Today it is survival of the ficklest, and the most-connected. Contemporary human 'evolution' speaks of the greater good, the collective consciousness into which we pour emblems of ourselves, which inevitably get mashed together into an amorphous whole whose ultimate meaning we have yet to understand. But we go on building it, a kind of invisible civilisation of thought, and comment and speech, an amalgamation of all media, something bigger than us all.

And the final paradox is that we never collectively agreed to begin our inexorable rush towards the noosphere, nor can we collectively agree to halt that rush. It is as if the decision to inhabit it was made for us. Subjectivity has been served with a death sentence. On the internet, it simply walks a virtual Green Mile.

 

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