Shouting into the Void: The Internet Ego Echo-Chamber
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the SuperNerdLand.com staff and/or any contributors to this site.)
Can you imagine being so egocentric you can’t entertain the possibility you’re wrong? I sure as hell can’t. I still struggle with self-doubt and moments of second guessing myself, and it’s only in the past year I’ve had the confidence to try and tame my fears and put some of my writing out there. Sometimes what I write is written and re-written a dozen times, taken apart and put back together again to ensure the argument being made isn’t fallacious or biased. Even in my more informal moments such as this series of semi-rants, I still feel that nagging sense of fallibility; the thought that at any moment someone could barge in, and in one fell swoop prove all my arguments worthless because of some oversight or misjudgement.
This is a healthy fear so long as it doesn’t cripple you; I know some of my fellow contributors who’ve had great insights but talked themselves out of putting them on the page because of that same creeping self-doubt. Life is about balance, both online and offline, and striking that balance is what helps us be grounded and functional human beings.
But I’m not here to talk about my neuroses; I talked last previously about how social media can leave us feeling isolated and alone if we let it, but what happens when the pendulum swings the other way?
We have more opportunities than ever to curate what we do and don’t see online. Be it through who we friend on Facebook, who we follow on Twitter, what media we read online, or what information we intentionally block out. In many ways it amplifies what we think about ourselves, or our feelings at the given moment. If you feel lonely, it’s easy to seek things out that make you feel even more alone. If you think you’re the absolute poodle’s nipples, and that you’re God’s gift to reality and everything in it, then its easy to construct an online world that fits your delusion.
That amplification of feelings can turn into a feedback loop, a screeching monster of egocentrism that if left unchecked will continue to get louder. This is partly the source of what have been dubbed “cry bullies,” people who attack others then weep and wail when they’re told to stop.
To quote David Carr, a media correspondent at the New York Times David Carr, “…the always-on data stream is hypnotic, giving us the illusion of omniscience.” He made this comment in reference to journalist’s utter failure to see the direction the wind was blowing in a 2014 Congressional race. Online media happens to be some of the people guiltiest of this assumption of omniscience and they feed the hordes of low-information crusaders with exactly what they want to hear. The writer and the audience are complicit in this dance and they engage in mutual bias reinforcement, eventually reaching the conclusion that they were always right all along, and that nothing in their worldview had to change.
Two niggling problems remain in this seemingly perfect arrangement: opposing points of view and those willing to voice them. The internet has become great at inventing shrieking narcissists. Instead of trying to break down the walls of unreality, organisations and business have instead elected to reinforce them. This is why we see the war waged on the comments section on many websites.
It’s “too sexist” or its “too triggering” are just weak excuses. To me, the real reason is that the writer’s ego can’t take even being mildly disagreed with. Their worldview is so fragile it will shatter if exposed to dissent. Someone out of touch with reality is utterly useless in many capacities, and they are going to find conflict wherever they turn.
People who dissent online are increasingly being targeting by smear campaigns, and E-celebs like Wil “Shut up, Wesley” Wheaton have long campaigned for real names and faces to be to be shown online in the crusade to target and shame those undesirables who dare challenge his fragile ego.
I write under my real name so let me say this. Wil Wheaton is a joke, a hanger on too inept for a TV or movie career who subsists on geek credibility from his one relevant moment over two decades ago. He doesn’t realize this because he’s surrounded himself with sycophants and yes men who tell him he isn’t almost universally reviled. Like many others with fragile egos, Wil is a proud user of the a Blockbot, and this helps reinforce his echo-chamber online.
Blockbots and their supporters have been courted and tentatively endorsed by everyone from Google, to Twitter, to the IGDA, and even the United Nations. They represent the next step in ego protection in an effort to remove any chance their absolute infallibility will be questioned. Rather than being a prison cell for “trolls,” they serve as a blindfold, a pair of goggles that distort the online world and display a picture completely out of line with reality. I’m reminded of a trailer for Team Fortress 2 where the Pyro sees the horrible immolation of others as a bright fantasy world made up of rainbows and unicorns.
The same is true for comments sections online; if you over moderate them or simply turn them off all together you get a false sense of your own infallibility. The deeper you get into your ego illusion the less equipped to deal with reality you become and are less able to rectify mistakes. As we proudly state, we keep our comments open for precisely that reason; we are capable of being wrong. We get people pointing out a small spelling or grammar errors all the time, which is free editing for which we are grateful for even if a little embarrassed when it happens. That’s just a mild example, but if we fucked up factually I would want to know about it and fix it as quickly as possible.
Some shout into the void and hear nothing but their own voice echoing back at them. They mistake it for the voice of the entire internet and are unable to pull themselves away from a destructive track. This is my main problem with Tumblr and why I find “Translating Tumblr” such a fascinating, but sometimes difficult read. There are entire communities like shoplifters, otherkin, and people with eating disorders on all points on the spectrum. We begin see how the ego feedback loop could literally kill someone in the case of an anorexic being told they are at a healthy weight. Here a “safe space” can be a death sentence. Tumblr at its worst is an island of delusion where people with all kinds of issues can go to seek the opposite of help. Twitter with its censorship and recent endorsement of Blockbots is fast becoming that too.
During the early Enlightenment, mankind began to realize they weren’t — as had been presumed before — at the centre of the universe. The Earth, and everything on it, were not as remarkable as had been first assumed. But a greater truth was discovered.
That the majesty of creation was far more varied than we had imagined, and the universe is boundless space and potential. If the Enlightenment had happened on Twitter, these people would have simply blocked Galileo for his unpopular and uncomfortable opinion and made fun of him behind that block. Heliocentrism would have been regarded as “too triggering” for the minds of those convinced they were always right. “Heresy” has morphed in “Hate Speech,” but the ignorance that kept people away from the truth about the wonders of the universe remains as stubborn as ever.
Most human beings also come to a realization in their life that they are not the most important person on the planet. To develop as a well-adjusted and amiable human being (read: not a complete cunt) you need a few well-placed whacks over the head with the reality stick now and then. Sometimes people’s misconceptions need to be shattered for them to grow, sometimes reality just has to kick the shit out of you for you to learn something. That can’t happen if you treat the internet like your own personal fiefdom, or a nice safe padded cell.
People dislike change by nature; it makes them uncomfortable and fearful, but what many mistake for harassment and hate speech is just them coming into contact with the real world and not being able to handle it. What is meant by “the right to be comfortable” is in fact the right to be infantilized. If babies had access to Twitter, their mothers taking their dummy — a pacifier if you’re a dirty colonial — away would be decried as an act of brutal injustice inflicted on a helpless minority. #BringBackOurDummies would be trending worldwide, and all those saying “maybe that’s part of growing up” would be banned.
The “right to be comfortable” is the right to stifle other people, and not have to feel bad about it. It’s the right not to develop as a human being and realize that maybe, just maybe, admitting you are wrong from time to time won’t cause you to spontaneously combust.
Adults have no right to be comfortable. We all hold some shitty opinions; the most important thing is being able to tell each other that. No one wants to hang around with some unpleasant ego monster. The only person you will ever fully agree with is yourself then — and even that’s not guaranteed. If someone continues on that path then that’s who they’ll end up with. Themselves.
An internet of people who’ve blocked away anything but their own voice, shouting endlessly into the void, convinced of the righteousness of the sound of their own voice. And I think that’s a pretty bleak vision for the online future.
We’re all assholes, but the lesser assholes at least know that.
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