The connected world once promised a new horizon of enlightenment: a New Enlightenment, in fact.
The idea would be that through education, information and plain contact with difference on a daily basis we would find ourselves able, as a species, to usher in new ways of being that would overwhelm the prejudices of rancid nationalism, an almost medieval attachment to sovereignty and formal nation-state borders, and a cultural-centricism almost everywhere you looked. Unfortunately, and just for starters, colonial instincts have moved from the diamond-mining of the 19th and 20th centuries to the thought-mining of the Facebook, Twitter, and freebie-blogging eras.
There are many other examples we could explore. What is clear is that never was remuneration – and its corresponding social success – so retributively applied as this awful process of punishment, graded in number of weekly likes and comments below the fold, or not as the case may be.
But on the back of the above, which I essayed some years ago already on a blogsite I wiped from the web recently, I am beginning to have far more serious thoughts.
I have mentioned my own linguistic PTSD in relation to the language of Croatian: a language which was my first language, even though I was born and grew up in England; a language which was the standard-bearer of a parent quite vigorously regressive in many attitudes which people who, these days, consider themselves progressive would never agree with; and a language which the other parent (non-Yugoslav) quickly found a real and sincere delight in learning, despite its considerable and intrinsic difficulties.
I mention the above because the two cultures did not infuse my childhood with beauty, but rather were the definers of a parental battleground that only came to really bite me in the backside when I fell seriously ill in my 40s. I struggled most of my life to overcome the instincts of black and white that their upbringing produced in me – certainly unintentionally, but nevertheless quite definitively. My relationship was a constant see-saw between one week agreeing wholeheartedly with the one; the following, swinging to the other extreme in utter confusion. This meant I never did acquire a core set of me. It took me till the age of 54 before this began to process itself at all constructively.
The above is the background to my PTSD, which lately manifests itself in extreme nausea and revulsion when I hear the language in question being spoken. I used to feel bathed by its tones and its sounds: no longer. There are reasons I have gone into here and elsewhere, and – indeed – in some of my university assignments, for this PTSD; but in truth whilst PTSD may be the correct diagnosis of a dysfunctionality I manifest, my reactions are – objectively speaking – not only prejudiced but racist.
Or are they?
In a connected world, will prejudice – which is little more than the applying of labels without easy justification – become a fair assessment of so many situations we are going to encounter in the near and distant futures that clearly now encroach?
Why this emphasis on the connected world which I already suggested above was supposed to bring to the table beautiful new ways of being, seeing and doing of global citizenship?
Because connectivity is a tool, but not necessarily a benevolent one.
The concept of siloed dynamics on Facebook, Twitter, even blogging communities – even Spotify and the various music services which the major tech corporations all monetise – is well known, needing no explanation here.
We follow more and more those who psychologically, intellectually, emotionally, and even culturally, stroke our own set of core me. Most people do so, anyhow. In music, more than anywhere, left to my own devices, I listen to a fairly limited selection.
Music is just one example, then, of the siloes that currently – at least to my eye – afflict us.
What does this mean for prejudice – and what does it mean in particular for prejudice and its accuracy?
I suggest the process involves communities, gathering more and more on the basis of identities evermore cleverly marketed and defined online by their proponents; individuals, who coagulate themselves respectively in the shadows of such signifiers – then put on the jackets of these identities and wear the badges of pain and suffering evermore proudly; and, in this way, the prejudices we hold – terrible simplifications of the wealth and richness of being any human should surely be free to represent and manifest – become more and more accurate.
That is to say, the environment of a connected world is not only dumbing down many people’s ability to analyse the world around them with wisdom, it is also making these individuals caricatures and two-dimensional representations of their former selves. Of selves which existed perhaps only two decades ago.
If prejudice is two-dimensionality squared, whither its utility when the world of the web makes us but two-dimensional beings?
And so I conclude: prejudice will rightly increase in a connected world, not because it is right that it should – it is, obviously, a terrible prospect – but because its utility will rightly increase: when a label corresponds evermore closely to the labelled, inevitably we will become likely to use it.
And so I perform the act on myself: from right way back when I had dealings with the most liberal newspaper in the UK, and some of its journalists encouraged me to shorten my given name of Miljenko to Mil, I have been debating the value of seriously making such a move. Yesterday and this morning, online at least, I have begun the process. Curiously, I feel better for it: in encountering my core me at the age of 54, I now am taking the step of assigning it a publicly modulated identity, almost as a marker in the sand.
And yet … and yet.
And yet something gnaws away at me.
By carrying out such acts of renewal, are we committing acts of linguistic vandalism? Are they driven more by an instinct to give in to inaccurate prejudice than to forge and form accurate labels around a far less rancid, far more globally citizened world?
Is changing your name, a process I clearly am in the midst of, an act of healing or revenge?
And if the latter, is it – ultimately – an act of revenge against others or, even worse, a savage turning in on oneself?
Update to this post:
I have just read this morning’s article by John Naughton, writing in the Guardian, on the subject of what he calls a half-educated tech elite. Actually, he is not being rude but attempting to be literally truthful. It provides a fabulous backdrop to my idea that prejudice is becoming more and more accurate, as the web progressively attempts – needs, in fact! – to simplify and streamline our beings and behaviours.
You can read Naughton’s thoughts here.