Meta Versus Us
When I was a kid, I loved writing letters. I was a super-sentimental, Jane Austen wannabe, and nothing felt as deeply Romantic or True as pouring out my heart to a far-flung friend, messy handwriting, scratch-outs, and all. I'd spend more time decorating the envelope, painstakingly carving out the name and address in a rainbow of felt-tip pens and fonts, than on the letter itself. (The USPS loved me, I'm sure; they always had to hand-sort my letters.)
The process was tactile. It was sensory. It was very, very analog. It felt like a direct extension of the essence of ME, the most accurate way to make connection with others. And I loved it.
Then came the advent of email, at the dawning of my teen years, and I railed against it, pretentious little 65-year-old woman that I was: it felt so impersonal! There was no penmanship! No ink stains or rubber stamps; no curlicues. I made a stand right then and there: "Email is not for me!" I declared... and then promptly signed into my AOL account.
Needless to say, the world has evolved in such a way that we can't avoid the onslaught of technology. Email correspondence rolled into basic social media, which rolled into more advanced social media and the culture of cultivating and maintaining an entire persona in cyberspace, as if the earthly, flesh-and-bones life wasn't enough to tend to.
With our focus divided and scattered, and software designed to shorten our attention spans, "what is real" became increasingly nebulous.
In spite of my own deep values system (the one innate in me, and not what's pushed on me as a programmed consumer and "good" contributing member of society), all these years later, I find myself locked in endless Instagram scrolls for hours at a time. I hear a small voice in the back of my consciousness--the 13-year-old me? the ancient me? the infinite me?--alerting me to my behavior, and even I cannot stop it: even as my body feels crunchier, my cortisol persistently higher, and my once-strong sense of self-discipline disintegrating.
Let me be clear: I don't think social media is 100% evil. I've benefited from digital connections to sustain me in times of deep loneliness (especially, of course, over the past year), networked and created business and creative opportunities for myself, shared personal dispatches that reaped unexpected acquaintances and re-acquaintances, and learned, learned, learned.
But when Mark Zuckerberg announced the Metaverse, the blood froze in my veins: not only because it hews a little too close to the dystopian depictions of our imagination, or because Zuckerberg fancies himself the rightful emperor of any future version of our world, but because it feels like the death knell of a sensual, tactile, physical, analog existence. I need that existence, and the younger me needs it, too. (In fact, we all need it for the regulation of our nervous systems.) And if we're headed in the direction of the singularity regardless, at least--at LEAST--let us wrest these powerful tools from unaccountable hands and utilize them for GOOD.
"Organisations need to have a clear vision of what we want our real world to look like, in order to make the most of the opportunities offered by the virtual one," says Ed Greig in a letter to the Financial Times. Mr. Greig's job title is Chief Disruptor, and ultimately, those of us who feel passionate about and are standing up for an internet with a moral compass and humanity at its heart are all disruptors. So are prophets. So are activists. Sisyphus struggled, but man, I bet his arms were RIPPED.
Time feels like it's speeding up, doesn't it? The river is flowing fast and hard, and rowing against the current can be bewildering and exhausting. But in this case, for this cause, leaning into the wind is both noble and vital to our survival as a species. We were not born to become the boneless blobs of mindless complacency in Wall-E. We were born to turn the seeds of our creativity into exuberant expressions of aliveness.
Our ultimate destination is not to be avatar pawns. 13-year-old Lyssa knew this in her marrow as she journaled furiously by the light of her lava lamp, dreaming of building Utopia. Touch your face. Smell the grass. Hear the insistent thrum of your heart through your shirt, declaring your sovereignty. We are here to collaborate and make great things, human to human. If the tech can serve that higher purpose, great! But at the first whiff of us serving tech's purposes, eyes up, wise up. Close your laptop. Remember who you are.