As anyone who has ever seen the movie The Matrix clearly remembers, Keanu Reeves as Neo was introduced by Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus to the computer generated reality (the matrix) that the world had become after some sort of apocalyptic occurrence; with Morpeus and his band of underground freedom fighters being the only real people in a world of computer generated images powered by the real bodies of everyone else who was plugged into the matrix in order to serve as a power source of sorts. Yet, at the same time, although the unreal cyber world from which they hid wasn’t in fact real, it could have very real world consequences for them, ones which could even lead toward their deaths. For as Morpheus told Neo, if your body dies in the matrix, it can no longer survive in the real world.
What is so brilliant about the movie, in addition to its mind-blowing premise and action sequences, is that, inadvertently or not, and nearly twenty years after it appeared, it might indeed be the perfect metaphor for the digitally enhanced cyber world in which we now live. That is, as the reality in which we live now exists increasingly inside the world of the plastic screens of our phones, tablets, and PCs, and as reality TV increasingly dictates the dynamics of both our personal and business lives, we may be increasingly well on our way toward becoming similar to the computer generated images of the matrix, those in which we tend to experience ourselves as still being real, even though this may no longer be the case.
As people create the best possible incantations of themselves on social media, as most business and even personal relationships are being conducted in cyberspace, and as the networks of our very own thought processes are becoming integrated into the digital networks of Google or other large search engines, we are now increasingly living inside a fallacious world that exists inside the screens of our PCs and phones, even as we fool ourselves into believing that that false world is integrally connected to the real one. And as our attention and our working memories are being continually directed by powerful algorithms that always seem to know where we might be navigating next, our world and our selves are being increasingly controlled by digital forces of which we may not even be aware.
Add to that the increasingly accepted knowledge of how powerful neurotransmitters inside our physiological brains, such as dopamine, at one and the same time feed our Internet addiction as they keep us addicted to social media postings and text messages on our smart phones, and you have a cyber world that would appear to exist for the purpose of keeping us chained to it so that others can profit from our subservience. Recently, Shaun Parker, one of the founders of Facebook appeared on television to reveal that he, Mark Zuckerberg, and others who created the website knew beforehand just how addictive they were making it. Yet they went ahead and did it anyway.
Like Neo when he was first introduced by Morpheus to The Matrix, few of us really comprehend just how far the rabbit hole of an unreal cyber world really goes. That is, how far it might extend into a bottomless world of unreality that has the profit motive as its source; with all those who are now creating addictive apps and websites acting similarly to how the agents did in The Matrix who attempted to prevent beings like Neo or Morpheus from penetrating the unreal cyber world; and in so doing, exposing it to others. Eventually what might occur is that people won’t be able to recognize the difference between the unreal world inside their plastic screens and the world of real time people and events. If that point should ever be reached in the future, heaven forbid, there will be little difference between all of us and the computer generated images in the cyber world of The Matrix.
In addition, now that it is generally accepted that all of the multi-tasking and jumping back and forth between links, websites, and text-messages is creating a distracted awareness in people; and that so many people are outsourcing their working memories to sites like Google or devices like echo rather than trying to retrieve information and knowledge by digging it out of the neuronal connections in their brains; our minds and brains may well be reaching the point where ultimately they have neither the cognitive capacity nor the subtlety to comprehend exactly how our sense of reality may be in the process of being placed in danger by the cyber world that we habitually inhabit. As a result, the dynamics of that world may have a built-in default mechanism of sorts that will keep us ever more inured to it.
I know. This all sounds like some sort of sci-fi horror movie like Night of the Living Dead or The Thing. Yet what if the above is indeed occurring, and few people take it seriously until cyber reality has managed to not only replace the activities and personal relations of the real world with many of its own dynamics, but to subtly and dangerously control the natural networks of our thinking minds with digital networks that are both highly manipulative and tied to the profit motive? Then, perhaps like the computer generated images of people in the world of the matrix had no idea they weren’t real as their actual bodies lay in huge towers, serving as batteries that powered the whole thing, it will be too late to change things back to where they were. That is, unless another Neo comes along.