The tyranny of Us
After reading a heartfelt post at Bad Catholic regarding the detrimental effects of social media, I was inspired to jot down some grand and sweeping observations about where communications technology is leading us. I’m not too embarrassed, because I think that on this topic, grand and sweeping observations are entirely justified. The Internet has wrought changes that exceed all the usual hyperbole in their significance. I’m old enough to have watched the Internet grow over the last 20 years, and my initial enthusiasm has turned into fear. I’m not too embarrassed about that either, as fear can be an appropriate response to a bad situation.
If you’ll let me indulge in some wild speculation, I’d like to propose that there is a logic behind the ever-increasing connectedness in our society, and that it is leading us towards what I think will be the ultimate tyranny, beyond anything that Stalin or Hitler could have imagined. There is no conspiracy behind it, and no dictator or ringmaster who will stand above it. What is coming is the tyranny of Us, when We (all conscious humans) unite in a society of total surveillance and connection, in which We always know, in real time, what We are doing, thinking and feeling. All our communications innovations are leading us to the same end: Us. When we tweet, post, comment, share, or blog, it feels like we are building something, but it is building Us. We’ve spent thousands of years attempting to understand what makes us human, and now we are awakening to our collective existence, as the great mass of data regarding our past and present becomes available all the time and all at once.
We will be a new type of creature, a fully synthesized corporate unity with a unique essence–something more like an angel, or rather a fallen angel, since We can never escape matter, no matter how digitized our world becomes. What I most fear is that Our consciousness will be a closed circuit. We will erase God from our vision and simply stare at Ourselves for all eternity.
One of the characteristics of God is that in Him, as is not the case with any other creature, essence and existence are one. Thomas Aquinas says of God, “The essence of God is . . . his act of existing. This sublime truth . . . God taught Moses when he asked the Lord: ‘If the children of Israel ask me what your name is, what shall I tell them?’ (Ex 3:13). And the Lord replied: ‘I Am Who Am. You are to say to the children of Israel: He Who Is has sent me to you.’ (Summa Contra Gentiles 1.22 , qtd. in Gilson, ellipses added). Humanity now strives to say collectively, “We Are Who Are,” despite the impossibility of us ever fusing existence and essence. Perhaps “My name is Legion, for we are many” would be more appropriate. This processes involved in this striving are incredibly complex, but have one simple goal: to create an eternal present in which the human collective consciousness consists of one immanent act. We would be the only creature of our species, a fully-actualized instance of a unique essence, never to be repeated.
In the world of academia, as in the world at large, there seems to be a bias against pessimism regarding the new communications revolution. We should be studying the logic of this new tyranny, if only to prepare ourselves for what is to come. Are We to become a semi-angelic corporate entity, a lonely monster lost in a technological house of mirrors, crying desperately for the Daddy whose grasp We willfully shook? Is there a way out?