Humanity has evolved not in the progressive sense but rather it has changed; whether the change is positive or negative is yet to be seen. However much like a child in its infancy our new global culture can be studied through its greatest medium of communication i.e. the internet. The internet has created a world wide web in every sense of the word, for all cultures and our cumulative collective knowledge is ingrained within it. The internet though also feeds mankind’s more regressive appetites, which is the urge toward being locked into some collective form; to be in a “comfort zone.” It is facilitating tribalism on a global level, slowly consolidating all cultures into one homogeneous entity; primarily a western-centric model. Through the internet people are trying to find a place in the readily available spectrum of identities; it is promoting “in the box” frame of thought. The promulgation of such a form of thought is endangering our society into relegating a medieval biblical status to the internet. That is to say that the internet is being thought of as a place where all answers may be found and that nothing else need be explored. As man created civilization, he has now the internet; as an outlay to anchor his thoughts, identity and make those grand inherent intricacies as simple as possible, but it can be a great tool if used properly.
Consumerism methodically promotes this through the internet by digesting the complexity of human thought to as simple a form as possible and serving it on a platter to as many people as possible. The temptation is being presented to everyone globally to accept a given fact without questioning it. The internet provides knowledge but not understanding, much like a vendor provides his goods and services without having knowledge of its purpose or origin. It can be said that before the internet people knew less and were narrow in their scope but they were not in their ambition to learn more; to think “outside the box.”
The meta-knowledge is being lost in its translation to this global medium of communication and information sharing. This however is a normal reaction to a civilization that has gone beyond its limits and seeks stagnation. The Romans did the same when they said that its borders were the entire world and the rest was merely an impossibly uncivilized wilderness. As the Romans built their roads to connect everyone within their “world,” our civilization has built the internet. It is not exactly a technology that is stagnating civilization; rather it is merely a product of one.
The homogenisation of culture through the internet is also affecting the stagnation of civilization. This is being done through the international availability of a westernized consumerist form of belief. It tempts and subdues most people for it simplifies the incredible unknown complexities that exist in life into one frame of thought; that is that he who gets the most “stuff” wins. This marginalizes all the cultures from which the internet did not spawn and lessens the dynamic progression of human enlightenment that comes from the competition of multiple frames of thought.
This cultural homogenization can nowhere be more visible than in language. Most languages today are starting to incorporate anglicised words, such as the word internet which does not change across most languages. In history there has never been a more powerful lingua franca than English is today. Most people across the world have or are being taught it in their schools, even some secluded tribal people in the Amazon and elsewhere have an English speaker amongst them. In this sense, English is threatening to subdue all other languages and all the different ideas and frames of thought that come with it. Language carries with it a hidden connotation that promotes certain beliefs, created by its cultural products. In the case of English there are Hollywood movies and TV shows which are based upon western-centric consumerist beliefs. That is one of the reasons why everywhere from Kazakhstan to Brazil one can find IPod’s, Shopping malls, kids wearing American t-shirts and drinking Coca-Cola. This may promote more people to understand each other but not so much through different cultures; rather through the medium of a shared western culture. Thus different patterns of thought are being lost and the “box” is getting smaller.
Besides the internet’s ability to universalize western culture, there is also its ability to fragment society into social “cliques”. It has never been easier for like-minded people to unite together and take action or merely to reciprocate one’s already well-established ideas. On the one hand it allows for researchers to share each other’s work across vast distances, and further cultivate their ideas and philosophy. It also allows for more grassroots political action to take place, and give minor interest groups more of a voice in society. On the other hand, it also allows for more malevolent sections within society to communicate and act more effectively such as terrorists, paedophiles and criminals. However, in general it gives people what they want and not what they might need. In this sense people are more inclined to form interest-based cliques and lock themselves in a way of thinking more than they would otherwise. They identify themselves based upon something they like and stick to that with the same fanaticism as a sports fan attaches himself to a team.
To think in different ways is what helps promote creative thought. It has been shown in studies that people think better in a language other than their native one. The creative surge of the 19th century in Europe which created most of the inventions and ideas upon which we are based was due to a sense of cultural competition and dynamism. Europe was composed of many different cultures and was being infused from its global trade and colonies with new forms of thought; for example Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings were inspired by the Japanese. Their urge to think was not even limited by time, for the influence of the ancient Greeks and Romans could not be denied in the development of European philosophy. Yet, while we have all that and more now there is more a sense of seeking what they knew rather than how they thought. The greatest thinkers in history did not seek a “comfort zone” but rather to expand theirs as far as they could.
The main difference between a tribe and a civilization is its willingness to expand. In a tribe the roles are simple and fixed for each person; you belong to either a hunter or gatherer who attains resources and consumes them for sustenance or merely for a temporary amusement. Then there is usually some sort of religious involvement in the affixed role that adds some inexplicable meaning to it that only some select few priests may interpret. Medieval Europe could be said to live a relatively tribal state, for to question how the present information was created was considered a cardinal sin and people were burned for it. Then the renaissance and the enlightenment came and with it the question was once again valued; we became civilized. However, as the population has boomed and the number of resources and jobs are limited there is an ever increasing tendency to regress toward tribal thought; to be a super-tribe. After all, in a sense a tribal society is merely a minute version of a consumerist one, for there is only thought of the resources at hand and consuming them. There is no thought in some of these societies of what things ought or could be rather the immediate explanation is sought without due deference to logic and understanding.
It is possible to say that the internet is a symptomatic invention created for a species that has used its resources beyond its limits. As the human mind is finite and inclined toward basing itself upon the biological reactions it has received from environmental stimuli, then it is reasonable that it may only be capable of registering so much from the environment. This civilization we have created and the enormous population boom that has and is occurring could be inherently overwhelming toward the mind or perhaps intensively difficult for people to process. It could be agreed upon that it is impossible for everyone to register what everyone else is doing on the planet, thus we look inward at what is primarily happening with our friends and family. Thus, we inherently seek simplicity and not complexity. The internet provides us with the best tool possible for simplifying this incredible and unbelievably varied world; we are retreating inwardly rather than outwards.
The internet is an amazing tool and can be used as a tool for expanding people’s horizons and leaving their comfort zone. This could be true if people became conscious of the negative effects of the internet and tried to overcome their biological response to seek out a “comfort zone” for safety. It is a biological response for we feel, like our ancestors did before us, that if we are part of a group then we have a better chance of survival and procreation. That is why people are always looking for something that they already know to base their relationships, to create a greater bond. This is a reasonable course of action but for the intellect to be cultivated we must take the one aspect of ourselves that differentiates us from the rest of the apes and use it; awareness. To try to do and think in ways that are different to what merely is “comfortable” to us.
Mankind has created a grand colossus called the internet and has encumbered upon the daily lives of every citizen on this planet. In this colossus most of the world’s knowledge from generations past and present are anchored within it, and we seem to merely stand in awe of it. However we should not be in awe of it but rather explore further into its design and further discover ourselves. It is a frightening task that may lead us into a lost wilderness but it is one that we must undertake if we are to remain human.
published: 9. 6. 2013