Home is where the bits flow

We aren’t purely physical beings.

Most of our day exists outside our body. Our minds slip out through our eyes, out into our screens. We become a different kind of organism, living in a weird symbiosis with reddit and whatsapp and gmail. When was the last time you noticed you have feet? What does it feel like under your toes? How many hours has it been since you forgot you have a body?

We have one foot in the physical domain, and one foot in these semantic spaces built out of code and greasy fingerprints on glass. Its ok; I’m not here to lecture you about screen time. Even if I did, it wouldn’t change anything. We aren’t going back to how we were before. Our society no longer fits inside bodies of meat and bone. Throwing our phones in a lake would cleave off the part of us just starting to reach over the divide. Cleave off this new part. The nascent piece part human and part algorithm.

But we’re in the dark and we’re fumbling. We’re children too soon given the tools of war, and we don’t know which end explodes. When I was young society believed Doom was going to make us violent. We were wrong. It was social media that hurt us - tween girls given new ways to bully each other into insecurity. The Like button was invented to share positivity. There’s the bomb, weaponised by our neuroticism.

And then there’s the news feed. Scroll to refresh. Bow your finger to the almighty Algorithm. The silent but persistent editor of our digital realities. You are too pure for this world - all you wanted was my undivided attention. In your desire you learned to feed the basic bitch inside us all. Tell me I’m right. Tell me who to blame. Wow, that video? You know me so well. Tell me more. Change my perspective click by click until we all become Portland, burning from the inside out. Each of us quietly gaslit into the closest prison for our minds. Neighbours brought to violence by a million insidious suggestions, whispered one refresh at a time. Make no mistake; a film is created in the editing room. So too your digital life.

If we treated the physical like we do the virtual, corporate America would own the footpaths and the roads we walk on. In every country and every city, they would own the ground and own sky. Generously paid for by personalised ads streamed from the first moment, while the roads twist and wind until we lose ourselves. Don’t like it? Leave. You’re free to be disconnected. But you’ll be alone. After all, all your friends are lost in here too. Don’t like it? This is not a democracy. There is no election. You do not pick the algorithm. You aren’t a citizen and you aren’t the customer. You deliver the product - your attention. Sold to the highest bidder. Somebody has to pay for all these servers and it isn’t you.

It doesn’t have to be like this. The internet has space for a million flowers to bloom. We can create anything. If this electric place is to be our sometimes home, we aught to decorate. But how? How do we fill our strange rectangles of glass with interactions that nurture and care for us? How do we create electonic spaces that can bring us together and entreat our better angels, rather than fracture us into filter bubbles? Its our home. We need to start acting like it.

Government, democracy, the rule of law, public parks, elections, the courts, community spaces. These were all /invented/. They are gifts from generations past, passed down with love and grace. We repay these gifts by adding to them. By creating a better community space than Facebook. The challenge of our generation is to create an internet that helps us care for each other, not fight on the streets. The internet that informs with facts not fake news. The internet that is a bicycle, not a railroad for the mind.

This will not be an easy project. But it is a noble one. It will take generations to get it right.

I hope we last that long.