Mediation, Interaction, Cyberdemon

Ernesto Kelly Magtoto wrote a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where he alleges that the “Gestapo-like” Internet(s) has made our relationships with other people unnatural.  Apparently, we young people are becoming “aggressively mechanical and error-prone in their humanity.”  Mr. Magtoto seems to be railing against the Internet and computers in general; the kind of healthy paranoia that comes with them heathen computers and how much of a threat they are to traditional values.

Yep, them computing machines are ready to destroy not only our way of life, but life itself.  Didn’t we all get along before these ridiculous things like “Facebook” and “Twitter?”  Them blogs are destroying the world, and we’re starting to “add” friends instead of “making” them.  “Gestapo-like” Internet?  I don’t think so; if there’s anything to fear, it would be the big horned demons carrying big guns and wiping the heck out of human existence as we know it.  Following Mr. Magtoto’s logic, we are, well, doomed; we all live under a veneer of hypocrisy, we are never “real” as “real” can be, our friendships are distorted, and these “maeler daemons” have now judged “what is proper and improper.”

Hmmm… LOL?

I’ll take an extreme position by using a term loosely: everything is mediated. We all encounter, use, manipulate, and abuse objects in communication and interaction.  Lots of things “get in the way” of how we talk and how we articulate ourselves, as a result of our ability to use tools and to communicate with them.  Even the least “cyber” of communication patterns and interaction demands some degree of mediation.  There’s pen and paper, the postal service, phones, the lectern, artificial larynxes, language, telegrams, carrier pigeons, smoke signals, semaphores, the Macarena, and so on and so forth: there is always something in between that causes a delay and trace.

A guy named Erving Goffman called that “impression management;” we all want to put our best foot forward, so we create an impression of ourselves that would make us accepted, that would make us liked, or would have the effect we intend for ourselves.  It’s not “faking;” interaction, communication, friendship and commitment begins and ends with us creating and managing impressions.  That veneer is a reflection of how genuine we are.  After all, we want to be seen, perceived, and interacted with in that manner.

It’s not as much as “hypocrisy” as it is mediation, not “unnatural” as it is communication, and not “distortion” as it is interaction.  Consider:

  • When people define their situations as real, they are real in their consequences (Thomas theorem).  Everything is a situation, and we act according to those situations.
  • All communication and interaction assumes a dramaturgical front (All the world is a stage, and all men and women merely players).  We all play a part, much of which are based on the way we are perceived and the way we want to be perceived.
  • All situations bear with them a certain import that makes them important to people (somewhere in a reading by Charles Taylor).  Things, objects, factors, and social facts that are important to people are valued by them, and cared for by them.

So in many ways, the Internet is as social as things are.  While it is possible to overindulge or to be addicted or to be completely dependent on it, there’s nothing to be feared about us turning to lemmings or anything.

Should those traces and delays, then, get in the way of genuine friendship or interaction?  I don’t think so: while it changes the pattern by which traditionally face-to-face interactions take place, they don’t have to make us any less human.  We cannot discount the fact that some people may be reasonably honest with how they present themselves and create impressions on the Net, and we cannot discount the fact that genuine relationships and friendships can start from the Internet.  It’s not an “error,” as Mr. Magtoto insists it is; it is a tool, a change in environment, part of history, a medium.

I’m not saying that we should raise kids with Plurk or set up webcams to set up online inuman (although we can), but it’s basically an adapt-or-perish thing.  Perhaps Heidegger is right in saying that we need to “enframe;” at the very least, discover meaning and truth by using technology.  Beyond just adding friends or editing CSS or harvesting crops in heathen FarmTown, we should use technology to uncover those things that may lead us to freedom, to truth.  To bring forth not only the real, but the true.

In effect, perhaps, the most important thing is to be and to become, even if things are mediated, distanced, and found in between.  Rather than abhor or despise technology as the rose-colored glasses that keep us from understanding the real and block us from the truth, we can use it as a way to the real, and a lens to the truth.

Which essentially is what most of us are doing, even in avatar form floating in a cloud/series of tubes called the Net… which makes this entry something that’s pretty much useless.

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