Unreason in the Digital Age

The past three years have seen a considerable amount of angst over the changes digital technology–ubiquituous socialized participation in all forms of media, in particular (with social media platforms becoming increasingly expansive in their reach and integration with the rest of the media)–has been rendering in not only our political and social but also psychological lives.  We’ve heard worries about echo chambers, misinformation, “fake news”, deceitful reporting, manipulative narrative-shaping, and the smartphone-induced disconnect from one’s immediate surroundings.

Certainly, the times are chaotic.   But it is myopic to simply blame the technology.  If anything, the changes which digital technology have heretofore accelerated are not properties of digital per se, but rather the death throes of the psychological evironment engendered by television: mass media which thrives on absorption into phantasy, screeching against the changes of the new paradigm.

That is: for the past century and more, “the story” has been delivered by centralized outlets–first in newspaper, then in radio, and later in television.  Though different companies have provided somewhat different perspectives from time to time, by and large the narrative of explanation has been confined to mainstream positions.

Digital technology revolts against this paradigm by first exposing the control of narratives, and second by enabling nearly any individual to offer alternative interpretations.  To broadcast to the entire world, now, one needs nothing more than a decent smartphone and a wireless connection.  No one–not even a small army of linked entities–can control the narrative any longer.  Enclosing oneself in the echo chamber of opinion is not a new thing, but the chambers are now farther and farther removed from one another; and so those in each shouting at those in the others shout louder, with greater incredulity at the remove.

What digital technology is helping to expose, therefore, is the underlying lack of reason; a lack masked by the dominant reasoning provided through common-sense, commonly-propounded narratives which prevailed throughout the mass-media decades, but which is unsustainable in this new paradigm.  So, although digital is, at the moment, a catalyst for chaos, that chaos is the result of phantasaical delusions being shattered.

Learning how to think through all this chaos is, in consequence, quite a necessity.

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