An Illusion Purported by the Digital Revolution

Jan - Feb 2006

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A new era began in the history of human development with the rise of computers. In the same sequence of development arrived the internet that gave birth to the information revolution. This revolution is now profoundly influencing the human life. Those who have blind faith in it are very excited about its future. They foresee that, in future, life would be completely governed by computers. A pioneer of the digital-revolution and a futurologist of British Telecom states that all the disciplines like accounts, human resource management, research, financial management, designing etc would not exist any more in future, that is, they would be completely handled by the computers.

How far this digital-revolution would succeed in attaining the standards set by such imaginations only time would tell, but several internal conflicts of the cyber age and its basic ill-effects are now coming forth, which raise questions upon blind acceptability of these claims. From the illusory forms of virtual reality to the complete absence of any binding upon thoughts and feelings, the cyber age hides within itself several fearsome truths. Due to this, its acceptance with closed eyes is not appropriate.

Entry into the virtual reality of the cyber space and the form of its conflicting realism make a very interesting account. Describing it, Howard Rheingold in his famous book ‘The Virtual Community’ writes, “In 1985 I entered a world whose door was the screen of my computer”. And within eight years Rheingold became a member of a special cyber community, which had about eight thousand members, who had their own style and ways of living and conversing. None of them knew each other in the real world. On Internet just the ‘Login Name’ is enough so what use they had for names? Name could be anything like chair, table, cow buffalo or whatever. According to Rheingold this was indeed a parallel society on the Internet where, hiding your true identity, you could create a totally different identity in the cyber world. In fact, this was the first step to the creation of dual personality.

Upon descending down to the ground reality, it took no time for the illusion of the virtual reality to burst. As soon as some people of the community came out of the cyber world to meet each other in real life, they realized that their social and economic backgrounds are so different from each other that it is impossible for them to live together in real life. So they returned to their cyber world. With Internet as the medium, millions of such parallel communities have sprung up now, busily construing up their own imaginary worlds. These communities, in fact, are a result of the effort to satisfy different unfulfilled desires; since in these cyber communities people can vent out all their frustrations.

A fresh example of this process is the existence of beings titled ‘cyber jocks’ in the cyber world. Actually these are those men who are victims of some form of inferiority complex and are trying hard to impose their manliness upon others in the cyber world. There are many women, too, who are desperately seeking to abolish the male dominance in the society, but for various reasons are unable to do so in the real world. Cyber world again offers them an opportunity to satiate their unfulfilled wishes.

For some time now a conflict is going on on the Internet amongst the adherents of these ideologies. There are several cyber communities within these classes. The members who do not support the ideologies of these communities may face sever rebuke while chatting on the net or may get thrown out of the community permanently. An interesting fact to know is that while in the real world the feminist movement has taken eons to rise and garner support of a handful few, in the cyber world in just a few years several times more number of supporters of feminism are thriving! In the past few years an online video game by the name ‘Gender War’ has emerged as the most popular game among cyber communities. In this game men and women fight against each in the final battle for conquering the world.

The complications of cyber societies are not hidden from the specialists studying the human mind. Several psychologists believe that in fact cyber world has become a medium of expression of distorted mentalities and frustrations, and is a conglomerate of escapist men and women. No wonder that millions of people have now got hooked on to this new community culture.

Social scientists are also concerned about the contradictions inherent in the cyber world. They believe that on one side it appears that with the formation of new communities human social values are on the rise, but on the other side cyber crazy people get glued on to their computer screens, become totally self-centered and get cut off from the society. As a result they get far removed from the reality. The main cause of concern is that after diving deep into the cyber world, it is possible that a man may never be able to return to his daily real-world life with the same mental alertness.

Prof. Michael Heim expresses this danger in his book ‘The metaphysics of virtual reality’ and writes, “When we enter this illusory world, we need to become active on two ground levels of consciousness. One of them is the real world from where we entered the cyber world and the second one is the new world – cyber world or the virtual reality. The question is, out of us how many have such a developed state of consciousness that can maintain balance between both the worlds.” He writes further, “In truth we do not even realize when our hearts and minds got captive in this cyber system. Gradually this illusory world becomes more real and believable than ground reality and the existence of the real world becomes hazy.”  This statement by Prof Heim has also been corroborated by many different surveys that have been conducted all over the world, according to which, after their introduction to the cyber world people normally begin to spend more and more of their time on the internet and they do not even realize when they got transformed from regular citizens to the ‘netizens’ of the new world. This forces people to live broken lives and makes them swing between the real and the virtual worlds. This state of dual personality gradually becomes so grim that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish between the real and the virtual truth.

The presumption that digital revolution has brought people closer to each other is breaking down. The concept of global village has worked at the geographical level, but at social and psychological levels this has proved to be an illusion. When man is getting cut off from his own self and is becoming more distant from himself, then the statement that digital revolution is tying the whole world into a single community seems out of place. Its contribution to human development and well-being cannot be denied, but subjugation of our real-world life, accepting complete dominance of the virtual world over us is absolutely undesirable. The appropriateness of technological development is only in the form of a helping hand and not as an all-powerful master. The only means to well-being is discretionary utilization of technology.

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