The Internet provides kinds of opportunities that people could never have imagined before it came into existence. One kind of opportunity relates to the ability of people to assume many different identities within the different social media, other websites and e-mails in which they participate. People today like to assume different presentations of self with the different groups of friends and acquaintances with which they interact in different Internet formats. On the Internet, this is so easy to do. Before the Internet, people needed to take extra time actually traveling to and from meeting places for their external world groups. And because physical travel required additional effort, once a person arrived at a group, he was going to spend some significant time there in order to make the trip worthwhile.
When the telephone came along, people no longer had to physically travel to communicate with other people in real time, but it proved cumbersome as a tool for communicating within groups of several people, and it certainly proved very cumbersome for trying to go back and forth between conversations with different individuals.
But with the Internet, a whole different situation arises. One can switch back and forth between different chat conversations on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. What constitutes communication within an encounter in a group can be a few phrases here and there. And traveling between group conversations is not carried out by actual physical travel, but by a click of a key on the computer or smartphone or tablet. So this means that a person can maintain the time, energy and state of mind to be a member of a much larger number of groups than when he was only engaged with groups in the external world. And he can communicate with a much larger number of people. Granted that there can be some overlapping membership between some groups, but being on the Internet also means that one has a greater opportunity to be a member of some groups that the people in other groups will know nothing about. It also means that because one doesn’t have to be physically present, except maybe through an avatar, one can be an anonymous member of a group or a member with a made-up name and identity. One can wear a cyber-mask, and no one will know the difference.
Because these groups exist in the cyber world, in the screen world, they are vacuumized groups that don’t create organic bonding between members and that don’t create organic grounding in a palpable organic external world filled with flowing blendable continual stimuli. These groups create numbing ghost-like connections, and as people focus on making and keeping connections within all of their disparate Internet groups, they become numb and lose their capacity to make and preserve solid organic connections with the solid organic manifestations of other people. These Internet groups do not involve a lot of time, energy or state of mind to maintain. They do not involve the organic friction that allows a person to feel fully alive in his interactions with other people. So there is this paradox regarding the Internet. It allows people to make more connections with people than was ever possible in purely external world social interactions. But the nature of these interactions is such that they don’t generate bonding with others, grounding in the template of the organic external world, or organic friction to help a person feel fully alive and to move him through meaningful narratives in the external world, where he can make, preserve, and receive organic imprints which allow him to prepare a surrogate immortality and thus prepare for death.
Now this covers the people who have basically well-meaning intentions in their social manipulations on the Internet. There are the people who use their social manipulations on the computer to get the kicks they crave from so many interactions that simultaneously pull them out of the base numbness that they feel while spending so much time in the experiential void of the Internet screen. And yes, having to make so many unbonded, ungrounded presentations of self leads to their actual senses of self becoming fragmented, one might say even pixilated. Which, of course, leaves a person vulnerable to becoming robotized or avatarized in order to defend himself against crumbling apart from entropy.
And then there are the people who use their multiple connections on the Internet to do things that they consciously know will hurt the people with whom they cyber-connect. I am talking about those users of the Internet who create false identities in order to scam other people. I am talking about users who create cyber-masks that allow them to generate bogus business opportunities that draw strangers to invest money with them. Once the pretend businesspeople get their money, they, of course, disappear, something that is very easy to do on the Internet. Then there are the bogus courtships, where cyber-users, particularly from foreign countries, seduce lonely partners and convince them to send large sums of money to help their new cyber-lovers out of difficult financial circumstances. Once the cyber-lovers receive their money, they disappear.
It is easy to condemn these cyber-criminals for taking advantage of their anonymity on the Internet in order to extort money out of their unsuspecting victims. But it is also useful to understand them, to realize that these cyber-criminals are extremely numb people as a result of the technological experiential vacuum in which they live. They are people who, over and above the financial advantages that they gain, use their criminal acts as incredible kicks to pull them out of the extreme base numbness that they feel. The criminal action still requires taking a risk of getting caught and a risk of simply not being able to carry the scam through to its desire conclusion. The cyber-criminal lives for these risks that stimulate him out of his profound numbness.
Certainly, the relationships that the cyber-criminal forms don’t lead to deep bonding, deep grounding or the normal balanced kind of friction - organic friction - all of which help people to feel more vibrantly alive. But like the first category of Internet users discussed in this article - the more ordinary law-abiding users - they immerse themselves within the field of experience that has been made so readily available to them and to which they have grown accustomed. The template of a more natural more traditional organic environment is no longer as readily available for those who live in modern technological urban living environments. And even for those who live in rural environments, the exposure to modern technology has made them less capable of absorbing the organic stimuli that surround them. Hence, the opioid epidemic in rural America where abrasive kicks are substituted for organic stimuli. So people today relate to others as best they can – in many relationship fragments that correspond to their fragmented pixilated personalities. Lots of different presentations of self and very little core. In terms of satisfaction, fewer quality truly bonded truly grounded relationships can’t be beat. But one has to be receptive to such relationships in order to have them.
© 2017 Laurence Mesirow