The late philosopher thinker Krishnamurti said many times You are the world, meaning that what we often believe to be our unique, autonomous selves are really just all the different ways in which we are conditioned by the world in which we live. That is, we believe that, for the most part, our individual selves are unique beings with unique characteristics, when the truth of the matter is that we are all, for the most part, conditioned by the world in exactly the same ways, and because we don’t have the proper degree of insightful awareness to apprehend this simply because we spend so much time living in our own heads, we’re unable to perceive this fundamental truth.
Now, however, a new type of conditioning has come into the world – the World Wide Web, which conditions us to not just think and act in certain ways, as other force and dynamics in society have previously conditioned us, but also conditions us how to think and how to access certain information. That is, when we go online seeking information about various subject matters, the neuronal networks in our brains begin to merge with the algorithms and other digital pathways inside whatever virtual site we’re accessing. As a result, we start to lose control of what had once been the natural pathways of our thinking mind.
Even though we tend to believe that we are actually choosing how we navigate the Web as we scroll through it, and likewise believe that we are maintaining our capacity to freely investigate whatever we have become interested in, the fact of the matter is that our investigations are taking place within a much narrower domain than what we believe to be true. This is so simply because the Internet has already collected a plethora of information about us – our likes and dislikes, the information we have searched for in the past, our purchases, even our past associations with other people. And when we employ our thinking minds to search for new information, the domain for our search has often become the narrow result of our past virtual experiences.
On the other hand, when we think about or investigate the particulars of our world in real time and space without having entered the virtual world, there is the possibility that we can do so in a thoroughly open-ended manner. That is, as long as we’re aware of our past conditioning by the non-virtual world of which we’re a part in doing so. Yet when we investigate our world or try to apprehend its particulars while we are online, our past is forever determining the direction of our investigations simply because those investigations are in effect taking place within the realm of our previous virtual experiences. This means of course that we are forever being directed by our past in attempting to investigate our present.
The larger question, of course, is how much of our personal uniqueness and individualism might be slipping away in a virtual world that is increasingly able to control not just what we think, but even how we think as the digital devices we use might be using the very ways our own networks of thought gather information and learn to shape our own networks of thought. All this as a means of allowing large search engines to expand their business model for the purpose of directing our attention in ways that are advantageous to them financially, such as the ability to sell us an increasing amount of advertising. This is something it would seem we all need to take notice of, as it is very much occurring in present time.
Lyn Lesch’s upcoming book Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May be Imperiled, published by Rowman & Littlefield, will be available this Fall.