The Complex Dynamics of School Shootings

As most everyone knows by now, there was another school shooting this past week when in suburban Detroit a fifteen year-old troubled young man brought a gun to school and killed four of his classmates. And has so often occurred in the past, people in the media are wringing their hands about this troubling dynamic continuing to re-occur, particularly in terms of the incessant debate which seems to go on over what is most significant as far as impeding such events – stricter gun control laws or greater adherence to mental health concerns which schools might address in terms of troubled teenagers who turn suddenly violent.

However, given the extremely fluid nature of the social dynamics which have come to call in our society recently, this choice between gun control and mental health of young people, particularly in terms of the increased responsibilities which contemporary schools might now have for young people who are in their care, may not be so binary as it might at first scene. There may in fact be a number of other dynamics which either directly or indirectly contribute to the endless wave of school shootings which have now come to call. In point of fact, some of them might be the following:

Modern television sets are now awash with all manner of reality TV programs which engender bullying or other angry behaviors among the participants; programs which many people tune in to watch in order to derive some sort of vicarious pleasure from such confrontations. Television networks who carry such programs will say that there are in fact other reasons why people watch, such as the wealthy lifestyles that are on display, but the truth is that in lieu of how angry confrontations between various participants are so often hyped in order to promote these shows, it seems rather obvious what one of the primary reasons is why people tune in to watch them – to experience the bullying behaviors of others.

As a result, because actual confrontational, bullying behavior is regularly encouraged by these shows, and given how readily available they have become to young people in their formative years, even if the shows are often only in the background of their lives as parents, friends, and others watch them for vicarious reasons, angry, bullying behaviors are becoming increasingly normalized in our society. As a result, due to the fact that school shootings are often done by some young person who has been bullied by his peers, there may well be an indirect link between reality TV shows which encourage bullying and school shootings themselves.

Furthermore, as more and more young people are inhabiting alternative, virtual realities on the Internet, particularly in terms of the vast number of digital games that are now available to young people, the inner lives of any number of them may well be desensitized simply because virtual images on a plastic screen will almost never affect one emotively or sensorially to the same extent that real world experiences do. Consequently, as young people’s emotive lives are in danger of growing shallower due to this trend, the line between how strongly they might experience real world behaviors can likewise grow shallower. As a result of this, the awful experience of imagining actually shooting someone might begin to dissipate in the mind of a troubled teen.

Finally, many school curricula and environments in our society, particularly those in the public schools who are dependent on state and federal monies to continue operating, are now growing increasingly narrowed and constricted due to rigid testing programs upon which both student learning and teacher performance are evaluated. Consequently, due to the sort of high-stakes testing which has become increasingly predominate in student lives, and the consequent need to narrow learning environments so that certain scores might be attained, there is often less time to deal with certain personal issue which troubled students might manifest.

Almost certainly, in order to deal with the plague of school shootings which has beset our society, we need to enact stricter gun control laws, as well as being sure to provide schools with the funds to implement certain mental health programs for students who might be troubled. Quite obviously those would appear to be the two most significant issues in potentially preventing more tragedies such as the one that occurred in suburban Detroit this past week. Yet, at the same time, they might not be the only two dynamics which may be leading toward school shootings. And due to a culture which now seems to be in an increasing state of flux, there may be other issues, albeit indirect ones, that are leading toward the recent tragedies we’ve seen occurring in our schools.

Lyn Lesch’s recent book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier, published by Rowman & Littlefield, is now available.

Virtual Reality

The Potential Dangers of the Metaverse

Facebook appears to be now on the verge of launching its new platform, the metaverse, which many experts are already identifying as the next major computing platform; the idea being that it would function as a type of extended reality which includes a combination of augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Put succinctly, the idea is that virtual, 3D environments will become accessible and interactive in real time, in effect becoming transformative mediums for social and business relationships.

Similar to the way that video games now operate, the metaverse, according to experts, will allow users, rather than to just download information on the Web or to visit various apps, to actually enter virtual worlds that can be applied to real world contexts. And even though the possibility of actually entering virtual worlds on the Web may in fact be exciting to many, this new platform, as new technologies often do, may present some unforeseen difficulties; some of these being:

Instead of just potentially connecting with information that is false, there is the danger that people will actually begin to live inside different false realities which others have created for them. Therefore, the critical distance which one needs to determine the veracity of certain facts and information might begin to disappear.

People’s emotive and sensorial lives may be inevitably dulled simply because personal connections to the details of one’s world or to other people are never as strong in the virtual world as they are in the real world, particularly as people begin to mistake virtual reality for reality itself.

As people begin to live more and more inside some type of virtual or enhanced reality, there will be an even greater danger than there is today, because they are actually inside some alternative or augmented reality, that they can be manipulated into believing falsehoods simply because they won’t have the same critical distance to information that they now have when they simply download information on their computer screen.

There is increasing evidence that the Internet and the tools of our present digital age are creating dangerous forms of psychological, even potentially physical addiction which are affecting our attention spans, the stream of our thoughts and our working memories. With the new, exciting enticements of the Metaverse, those forms of addiction are almost certain to grow exponentially.

When people become more passive in receiving information as they begin to increasingly actually live inside the virtual world, rather than simply download information on their PC or phone while remaining the sort of active participants that they now are as they search the Web, the sort of active participation necessary for meaningful connection with information and knowledge might begin to significantly disappear. In particular, this might have negative implications for schoolchildren in their formative years who are using the Metaverse as part of their curriculums.

As the virtual and real worlds are increasingly fused in the forms of virtual reality, extended reality, or even an alternative reality where the real and virtual worlds are combined, it will become increasingly easier to confuse virtual reality with reality itself. This could potentially have enormous implications for people’s sense of self, the possibility of authentic relations with others, or even their grip on reality.

As the late Neil Postman – media critic, communications theorist, and long-time professor at New York University, said many times: Whenever any new technology comes into the world there are two important questions that need to be asked. What present problems does the new technology solve? And what new problems does it create? In this new age that seems to now be teetering on the brink of becoming fascinated with the new virtual realities which have come to call, we might be wise to consider Neil Postman’s prescient admonition.

Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published December 9, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.

The Dangers of White Guilt

Guilt and its origins, in fact its very nature, can be incredibly hard to define. Is it healthy to feel bad about what you or someone else you’re aware of has done? Does it help you to more clearly perceive your own acts or the acts of others and how you might change them? Where does guilt come from and where does it eventually lead? These are just some of the questions which tend to shadow this most illusive, some would even say non-productive of our emotions. And when you throw guilt, be it conscious or unconscious, into the mix of nuanced dynamics regarding race in our society, things can easily become extraordinary difficult.

Of course there is white guilt, one of the most maddening feelings related to race with which most white people must come to grips. Unconscious bias is more easy to comprehend because it can be easily defined even if it is often invisible. Institutional racism is all around us. If one happens to live in the city of Chicago, all one has to do is take a drive through the city, starting at the Gold Coast or Lincoln Park on the north side of town and then move half an hour later into the neighborhood of West Englewood on the south side in order to view the actual parameters of institutional racism. And of course overt racism is obvious and apparent to anyone who cares to really look.

But white guilt is different, perhaps because it both accuses and justifies at one and the same time. It becomes obviously self-accusatory when as a white person in American society, one looks at the obvious advantages one has had in life and then juxtaposes them against the disadvantages many people of color must endure while making their way through the same world; and if one is honest with oneself, one is able to feel the striking unfairness of it. At the same time, white guilt can legitimately lead toward people being involved in certain positive actions which they might take, such as the recent marches and demonstrations in which many young white people participated this past summer in support of Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd.

However, the question that these two distinct consequences of white guilt might provoke is simply one of asking what their actual relationship is to one another. To put a finer point on the question, does the self-accusatory nature inherent in white guilt lead only toward intelligent reactions to it by white people, or is there some deeper, more implicit reality to be considered here? That is, in acting solely out of their guilt concerning racial matters, are a number of white people recognizing only their own whiteness in relation to Blacks in a manner similar to the white people with whom the great twentieth century African-American writer Ralph Ellison dealt in his iconic novel Invisible Man?

Of course, the larger question which all of this begs is simply what is a healthy, true reality of encounter between Whites and Blacks in our society, one that is shorn of any neurotic thought and behavior that might be the product of white guilt? Recently, some black leaders have taken opposition to the idea that our country might one day become a colorblind society, fearful that Blacks may lose a measure of their racial identity in the process. So given this fear, how might self-aware whites meet these same black leaders halfway in putting forth the idea that colorblind doesn’t necessarily mean not acknowledging racial differences. Rather, it means seeing the other person as a true equal.

With this in mind, one has to wonder if white guilt and the actions which result from it aren’t at times counterproductive relative to healthy relations between Blacks and Whites in our society. For in some measure feeling guilty for what has happened to someone else often has the taint of superiority attached to it, one in which the sympathy which one feels for other people who have been treated unfairly often comes from a position of advantage in relation to them. Yet as one begins to shed those guilty feelings, then it seems possible to view that other person not as a victim, but simply as an equal inhabiting a different world; albeit at times a more difficult one.

Lyn Lesch’s latest book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published this December by Rowman & Littlefield.

The Difference Between Thought and Intelligence

There is a revealing scene in Jane Campion’s mesmerizing movie Bright Star, which concerns the evolution of the intense love affair between the poet John Keats and his next-door neighbor the seamstress Fannie Brawne in early 19th century England. During one of their lessons together in which Keats is teaching Brawne about the essence of poetry, he tells her that a poem needs to be understood through the senses. Using the example of someone diving into a lake, he reminds her that the point of diving into the lake is to be in the lake; to luxuriate in the sensation of water, not to work the lake out with one’s thoughts.

David Bohm, the renowned twentieth century physicist who contributed greatly to our understanding of quantum theory, particularly how subatomic particles existing at a distance from each other may be entangled, and who was also a close associate of Albert Einstein, wrote in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order of how our experience of the world can become fragmented and unreal when it is based on our mistaking the content of our thoughts for our experience of the world as it is.

One of the things which Bohm was addressing was how words and thoughts by themselves can prevent us from perceiving our world more clearly because the word is never the thing itself, and because our system of thought and language has inherent limitations which can prevent us from not only discovering what is real, but likewise from perceiving the details and dynamics of our world within a more expansive context.

Bohm likewise addresses in his book the essential difference between intelligence and thought; referring to thought as a product of all of our conditioned responses of memory, while intelligence is an act of perception, rather than a process of thought, in which in a flash of understanding somebody is able to immediately perceive the actual irrelevance of their whole way of thinking about a certain problem, and instead apprehend it directly through a fundamentally different approach in which all of the different elements of the problem fit into a new order and a new structure.

If one is in fact in agreement with Bohm on this issue, then a logical first step in integrating emotion and sensorial reactions into a larger intelligence, one born of direct insight and creative absorption, would be to explore the limitations of thought. Otherwise, it would seem, the thinking mind might continue to be a barrier necessarily controlling and eventually limiting the sort of immediate perception of our world to which Bohm refers.

In likewise addressing the dynamic of immediate perception, one born of direct insight, the famous twentieth century philosopher and thinker J. Krishnamurti contrasted knowledge with intelligence; the former being something that is generated only through the assimilation of facts and information, while the latter is a process in which one is capable of seeing the essence of something in a flash exactly because they are free from the energy draining activities of thought.

Yet how could we possibly perceive and then understand the limitations of our thinking mind if our actual stream of thought is being continually fragmented and interrupted by the essential nature of the Internet, one which as we jump around on it from one site to another, is increasingly making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to follow our thoughts to a point of completion?

My latest book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published in December, 2021 by Rowman & Littlefield.


The Death of Irony in the Digital Age

It was in 1964 that Susan Sontag wrote her notorious essay Notes on Camp, something which along with her provocative piece Against Interpretation rocketed her into the center of American culture in a manner which effectively fused the worlds of high-brow literary culture with the sparks of streetwise ethos which at the time had begun to smolder in Andy Warhol’s legendary Silver Factory.

The description of camp provided by Sontag in Notes on Camp was essentially a list of the elements of a culture in reaction to typical bourgeois society, something to which Sontag herself was in rebellion at the time. Only the descriptions provided were deeply ironical in the sense that they were to be taken as satirical representations of various elements of American society rather than as things in and of themselves.

Camp was a means of embracing certain things while at the same time keeping a comfortably ironic distance from them. For instance, so-called bad movies, such as Schoedsack’s King Kong, which the world of high culture viewed as being insignificant due to their lack of serious qualities, could now be seen not only as being enjoyable, but also having merit precisely because they were seen by most practitioners of high culture as being bad. In other words, what mattered was the irony of looking at something not only in terms of how good or how important it was, but in juxtaposition to a world that practitioners of camp sensibility saw as being overly serious.

Because there were unseen quotation marks around most aspects of camp culture, those which took the place of more serious literal discussions, camp irony soon became a powerful new form of intelligent communication among its practitioners. And because that type of intelligent humor is always an inside joke, understood only by those who get it, it soon came to exemplify for those who were in on the joke a higher form of intelligence.

Of course, this is also very much the function of irony in terms of intelligent communication with others; that the joke alluded to is always an inside one. That is, it is a means of putting others on who aren’t in on it. In so doing, pointing out how one’s position on certain ideas or issues is inherently understood by those who are in on the joke as being superior to other positions.

It is likewise a form of intelligence that is communicated primarily verbally through inflections in one’s voice, speech patterns that are tongue in cheek, or through such dynamics as the twinkle in one’s eye; which means that irony is never a means of communication that can be understood literally. Rather, like camp, it needs to be experienced in a manner that is both offhanded and offbeat; an indirect form of communication in which the way in which the message is delivered becomes just as important as the message itself; meant only for those who are aware enough to understand it.

When the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who has had both his arms sliced off announces that “It’s only a flesh wound,” the aware viewer immediately understands that what he is doing is casting an ironical eye toward all those battle or crime movies where the violence is both very real and very literal. That is, the filmmaker is putting on all those who favor violent movies with an indirect comment about them without ever alluding to them directly.

If irony is something that needs to be experienced primarily physically through voice inflections or facial mannerisms, the question then becomes one of asking what effect our current digital age, where people are communicating with each other primarily by typing words out of necessity into a keyboard or keypad, has had on ironical expression. Obviously, when communication is that which removes physical expression from the equation, it becomes much more difficult to express oneself ironically.

One prime example of how entirely literal expression has out of necessity replaced ironical humor and intelligence is the current Internet acronym LOL, which as everyone knows stands for laughing out loud; an abbreviated reference which makes it veritably impossible to wink indirectly and ironically at one thing while actually referring to another simply because it is out of necessity so inherently literal.

Of course, the next obvious question to be considered, it would seem, is that of asking what effect this incapacity to express oneself ironically when confined to the parameters of a keyboard has had on our social and personal communication with each other? And furthermore, is irony itself a necessary ingredient for intelligent conversation within wider societal parameters? That is, what might be missing when we are deprived of it in significant ways?

Naturally, the iPhone, personal computer, and the Internet are here to stay as our primary means of communicating with one another. Yet perhaps, just as the world of camp humor played an important part in the evolution of an underground culture that significantly threatened overly serious, high-brow culture in 1960s America, something similar might be made to occur in our current digital age which often seems to be devoid of the beauty and meaning of ironical humor and intelligence.


Lyn Lesch’s new book Toward a Holistic Intelligence: Life on the Other Side of the Digital Barrier is being published by Rowman & Littlefield in December, 2021.


One Possible Unimagined Genesis of Coronavirus

James Baldwin wrote in his brilliant long essay concerning racial disharmony in America The Fire Next Time of how if relatively conscious whites and relatively conscious blacks insist on creating the right sort in consciousness of others, and do not falter in their duty, the racial nightmare in our country might be abated. In other words, if people of both races would attempt to meet each other halfway in understanding the personal dynamics and history which has led to so much hatred and animosity, things might be genuinely changed. If not, as he put it in reference to a certain prophecy in the Bible which was sung by a slave, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

It seems now possible that we may be somehow dealing with “the coronavirus next time,” not as merely a result of racial disharmony, but in terms of something even much bigger. That is, the endless conflict, fragmentation, division, and recrimination which has been part of the social/political discourse both in our own country and also around the world for some time now. For it seems entirely possible that the close-minded, exclusionary hatred that has been part of so many people’s psyches may have somehow led to this worldwide plague that we are now all enduring; particularly if one believes that the inner state of one’s being can easily affect his/her physical health.

When I was twenty-nine years old, I was stricken with what amounted to a case of rheumatic fever, and I was of course very sick. I can remember that as I lay there moaning and groaning, I was also reading the poignant bestseller I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, written by Joanne Greenberg, about Deborah, a sixteen year old girl suffering from schizophrenia who was being treated by a caring, thoughtful therapist. In one short section of the book Deborah experiences a vision in which she is able to see a lump of coal being squeezed into a diamond, with an otherworldly voice telling her, “Deborah, this will be you.”

After going through the sort of difficult years in my twenties that a lot of people go through, I was able to identify with this sentiment; imagining my difficulties would result in me becoming a clearer, sharper person. Only there was a certain fallacy in my logic, which was believing that my difficulties were not of my own making, and were happening to me in part as a result of the actions of others. Of course the simple truth was that all of these difficulties, as the difficulties of all our lives are, were entirely the result of my own actions, and there was nobody else to blame for them except me.

And such is true of all of us, especially in terms of this particular moment in time, when it is easy to believe that the coronavirus is a plague that has beset us from some external source, rather than as something that might in fact be the result of our own making. Anybody who is familiar with either metaphysical speculation or physical heath related to the mind/body/spirit connection knows how closely connected that inner state of one’s being is to their physical health. And so it almost certainly is with the relationship between social thought and action on a mass scale and the physical well-being of peoples or countries at large. A crippled inner being often leads inevitably to certain physical maladies.

One thing the coronavirus has done is to help a number of us realize just how closely connected we all are. So even as the virus ends, perhaps that same sentiment can be carried over by many of us, and also by a media in this country who is often responsible for the conflict, division, and recrimination that now goes on all around us, to the point where people actually begin to listen to each other regardless of preconceived ideologies and beliefs. James Baldwin was right. If we all don’t start making more of an effort to get along with each other, it will almost certainly be another version of the fire next time.

Our Potentially Disembodied World

Now that so many of us are staying at home in the midst of the coronavirus, the nature of personal contact has been changed dramatically, at least temporarily. Not only are people no longer shaking hands with each other, and keeping their six foot distance from them, but likewise something else is taking place which over time might become much more insidious. This is how people, in lieu of the sort of physical connection with others which is no longer available to them are instead communicating virtually with others on sites like Skype or Zoom.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this use of virtual communication when more direct, physical communication is no longer available to us on any type of regular basis. In fact, given the present circumstances which the virus has forced us all to accept, this is in fact a welcome positive development in terms of permitting us to continue the personal communication with others that is so acutely important in the time of a fear-inducing crisis like the present one.

At the same time, however, there is very much a certain unseen danger that might be occurring as we now habitually skype and zoom with each other. This is simply that after the virus has passed by, people will continue out of habit to increasingly communicate with each other virtually rather than when they are in the actual presence of others; this former type of communication being not at all the same as the latter, with some potentially damaging developments occurring.

One of course is that when one communicates with someone who is on the other side of a plastic screen, that communication is disembodied in a way that actual personal communication with someone is not. That is, being in the actual physical presence of someone with whom one is conversing is part of a larger sensorial experience that bring whatever one is discussing with that person into sharper focus, whereas if one is just conversing with someone on skype or zoom, that same fully embodied experience simply doesn’t occur.

There have been recent studies which have demonstrated that when one is holding an actual book in one’s hand, rather than just using an e-reader, one tends to become more physically absorbed in whatever one is reading. And so consequently, one’s comprehension is greater. No doubt, it would seem that the very same dynamic might occur in the case of someone who is encountering another person on skype or zoom rather than in person, only in a much more profound, all-encompassing way.

The difference is that actual physical communication with a person or situation leads toward one experiencing the full spectrum of experience which is provided one when they are completely attentive to their surroundings. While virtual communication significantly limits that spectrum; the difference being much akin to the difference between a walk in the woods on a beautiful Spring day and scrolling through pictures on one’s phone of springtime scenes; the former being more all-encompassing simply because it is more embodied.

So the question obviously becomes one of asking that if people keep skyping and zooming at the rate they are now doing after the virus has finally ended, will this result in a shallower, more disembodied world, one which become the new normal for us on a more permanent basis? Or will people want, more than they want to remain with virtual communication, to be re-united with a physical existence which allows them to sink into the totality of their experiences? We shall see.

Intelligence in the Digital Age

Although the issue may be one that is on few people’s radar screens these days amidst the widening web of excitement that the appearance of the latest digital devices are bringing to all of us, and amidst the obvious fact that our world is becoming very much a cyber one, the nature of intelligence itself may be in the process of being adversely affected. That is, the addictive way in which people are now using digital technologies may be affecting their mental capacities and emotive lives in unhealthy ways which lead toward a more limited intelligence.

For example, people’s attention spans, working memories, and capacity for deep reading and thought may be in danger of being significantly imperiled by their obsessive use of smart phones, tablets, and PCs at a level which negatively affects their short and long-term memories, their attention spans, and likewise their ability to think creatively.

In addition, because their natural stream of awareness to which certain psychological  flow states are related may be imperiled by the interruption machine that the Internet has become for so many people, their capacity for a deeper examination of their lives and themselves may be affected, as are the quiet spaces inside people necessary for creative insight.

People’s emotive lives may also be in the process of being dulled by their continual acquaintance with sterile images on the plastic screens of their computers, negatively affecting not only their capacity for direct insight into themselves and the circumstances of their lives, but likewise their capacity for such insight into the truths that great art and literature have to offer.

Finally, if people’s working memories and capacity for extended periods of thought are under assault in our current digital age as people increasingly outsource their memories to certain digital devices and websites, they may be losing their once clear access to these dynamics. Consequently, it will become increasingly difficult for them to at least temporarily step outside the structure of thought and memory in order to clearly examine these things.

Presently, there are a number of articles and books written, and even studies being done about how the cyber world and people’s addictive use of digital devices might be negatively affecting their working memories, emotive lives, and ability to think creatively. Yet to date it seems that no one has really taken the next step and examined how people’s use of the Web and digital technologies may likewise be affecting their capacity for a larger intelligence; this intelligence being defined more broadly as a consciousness that while existing on the other side of thought and memory is also going to require a fully intact cognitive and emotive life if it is to be properly explored. So here goes:


Qualities of Intelligence Potentially Compromised by the Digital Age

  1. A fully focused attention
  2. Full access to one’s working memories (both short and long-term)
  3. Capacity for direct insight into situations and people
  4. Ability to think creatively
  5. A vibrant emotive life
  6. Capacity for developing a clear internal picture of one’s world
  7. Capacity for deep thought and reading
  8. Ability to explore the boundaries of though and memory
  9. Capacity for achieving a mental flow state that is creative
  10. Access to truths that great art and literature might represent
  11. Capacity to examine one’s conditioning through self-reflection

Lyn Lesch’s book Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May be Imperiled was recently published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Why the TV/Internet Comparison Just Doesn’t Work

When I’ve found myself lately discussing the potential negative influences of the Internet with people, I often hear others make the case that television has the same adverse effects on us that the World Wide Web tends to perpetuate. That is, others suggest that the Internet is conditioning us in much the same way that television previously did; that is by drawing us hypnotically into a particular reality that keeps us focused on the screen in front of us in a manner that is deeply manipulative in order to sell us certain advertising or shape our opinions concerning various areas of political discourse by attracting our attention in ways that narrow our focus through a certain loss of perspective that is being engendered within us.

Although this is in fact certainly true, what many people don’t realize is that there is a profound bottom-line difference between the way that television has habitually conditioned us in comparison to how the Internet does. This is simply that the Internet is not so much a seduction into a particular reality, like television is, but the reality itself by which we connect ourselves to the world in which we live. That is, the cyber world conditions us to think, act, and even remember along certain digital pathways inside our computers and phones that have become fused with the organic pathways inside our brains – a form of conditioning that is much more insidious than television having the power to program us to accept certain values to which we might become attracted.

Another major difference is that while television has the power to condition us by causing us to traverse certain internal pathways in our brains to which we are being directed, like when we watch our favorite political commentator without standing back to assimilate the full context of what he or she might be telling us, the cyber world, on the other hand, literally causes us to outsource our working memories and internal pathways to large search engines which have the power to control those same organic pathways from outside us. This they do through virtual algorithms, computer coding, and other non-organic entities which have the power to direct and control our own neuronal pathways inside our very organic brains by essentially assimilating them as their own.

So it is the digital pathways inside our computers and phones which control our organic pathways of thought and memory that tend to make any adverse effects of the Internet far more pernicious than the effects of television simply because with the Web our thoughts and memories, rather than simply being influenced and conditioned from entities outside us, like disingenuous advertising or manipulative newscasters, are being controlled from a place within us as those thoughts and memories merge with the virtual pathways of our digital devices. And so it becomes exponentially more difficult to apprehend clearly what is in fact happening to us. That is, unless we take the first step in recognizing that this process is something far deeper and more insidious that how television might have conditioned us in the past.

The New Empirical Loneliness

As many of us already realize, the reality in which we live today is often based on empirical representations of it. How many Facebook friends or Twitter followers does one have? Who are the top billionaires on the Forbes list? What are the standardized test scores representing how well students are learning or how well their schools are teaching them? What books can be found on the New York Times bestseller list? Of course, these type of empirical evaluations have always been with us. Yet now, they appear to be rapidly reaching the point where they not only augment a certain validation of popularity or success. Rather, now these quantitative determinants of success are becoming sole measures of it.

One result of this trend toward empiricism may be that as our world grows more outer-directed, and less inner-directed, people’s personas are in danger of growing more soulless and devoid of the richness which one’s inner experience may offer as the validity of that inner world is increasingly fused with the outer world of empirical success. While another result of this turning away from inner-directed existence may be how so many people are traversing the course of their lives by staring obsessively into the plastic screen of their phones, in lieu of apprehending the richness of human experience that is transpiring all around them.

However, there appears to be something else taking place which may be even more insidious. This is the isolation and loneliness which many people feel who have been somehow abandoned by the empirical validations of success which they can see others not only garnering, but in so doing enhancing their sense of self-worth. That is, when one can see other people who don’t appear to be all that significant in whatever endeavors they are pursuing with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter while one has less than a hundred, it seems logical that increasing feelings of isolation might result.

As Martin Scorsese’s iconic movie Taxi Driver made clear in revealing the isolated, lonely person who ultimately grows violent in the form of a Manhattan taxi driver played by Robert DeNiro in one of his more memorable roles, a feeling of isolation from the success that others enjoy, as when DeNiro stares despondently at his television screen while watching happy couples dance on American Bandstand, is a classic breeding ground for a stifling loneliness. So the question would seem to present itself: Might the viewing of success through a largely empirical lens that is currently taking place in our society be a corollary for a new type of loneliness?

The Internet has played a significant role in exposing the details of people’s lives that in a previous time were generally kept private. Personal relationships, private conduct, and monetary status have now all become fair game for how we might become exposed to others online. Indeed, with the Internet increasingly turning into a new reality for many people, this growing lack of privacy related to personal identity is becoming rapidly institutionalized. And as the quality of who we are as individuals becomes increasingly represented by the details of our lives inside a plastic screen, numerical evaluations of us are rapidly becoming the new normal; compared to how people might have been previously represented to others in ways which were less limiting and more fair simply because they were more anecdotal. And so they provided us with a broader, more complex view of who we are as human beings.

Yet when the number of followers on social media becomes an indication of one’s popularity and one’s worth; when standardized test scores become a primary test of one’s intelligence and one’s capacity to learn; and when the amount of individual wealth someone enjoys is presented to others in starkly numerical terms, as a result any number of people might easily begin to feel defined and even trapped by these sort of numerical evaluations. Consequently, it becomes exponentially easier for a stifling isolation and loneliness to rear its ugly head.

Now that we are all now more exposed to each other in this new digital age, the danger of comparing ourselves to others and in so doing to be found wanting has increased significantly simply because of how we are habitually made aware of the success of others in highly specific terms, and by how we are being conditioned to view our own comparative self-worth in purely numerical ways; and by the essentially rigid nature of digital algorithms and coding into which even our own thought processes are being increasingly assimilated.

Indeed, numerical representations of real-life situations, algorithms, and digital code have become by and large the language of our Internet age. And although these things may simplify our world for us as they allow us to search more expeditiously for information or to connect more easily with others, if over time they come to represent our humanity, we may find ourselves in a world of trouble.