Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cyber-Misery Loves Company

The 21st century, and particularly the invention of the internet, has vastly changed the way humans interact with the world. The internet, I dare say, was probably one of the greatest inventions of all time, right along side the wheel and sliced bread.

Knowledge, that in the past would have to be sought in books, some accessible and some not, is now available to all at the few clicks on a key board. Indeed, in the past knowledge many times was afforded to those who could pay its price. Books were expensive, and therefore the acquisition of knowledge was as well.

With the invention of the internet that all changed. Now, knowledge was accessible to all who sought it. Not only could one find the answers to his questions but he was able to find several sources to compare from, and to be certain that the information was up-to-date.

The internet, in addition, connected the globe in an unprecedented fashion. People from across the world could now, for the first time, send instant messages to one another. Since the invention of the internet and up until the present day, all the conveniences here mentioned, in addition to the great many that I have not written here, have become better, faster and more accessible.

There are, of course, many ills that have accompanied this fine invention; as always is the case. The enormous amount of misinformation that clutters the endless libraries of the internet, the inappropriate cyber-stalking that is easily done, and the many evils that are now only a click away from the innocent eyes of children, are just a few demons that were released with the creation of the internet. However, that is for another essay, and even perhaps, another writer entirely.

There are other goods which come to us via the internet that are perhaps less noticeable at first glance. It is a fascinating activity, and one I repeat often, to type the beginning of a question into a Google search bar, and let the most searched options pop up as Google attempts to guess your question based on the first words typed, and the popularity of the questions beginning with the same words.

A moment ago, and for the sake of this essay, I typed the words: "Why is life" into Google. The following popped up as the most searched questions beginning with these words:
Why is life so hard?
Why is life so tough?
Why is life so pointless?
Why is life expectancy so high in Japan?
Why is life so amazing?
Why is life so unfair?
Why is life so boring?
Why is life worth living?

In other words, the internet has enabled us to ask life's most pressing questions from behind our safe and anonymous computer screens.

Humans have the strange tendency to pretend that we have it all figured out. That we do not need the advice or, even the comfort of others. We are taught that to be successful at life is to have a great job that rewards you with a large paycheck. We are taught that adults shouldn't be asking questions like: "Why is life so hard?". Those types of questions should be buried deep inside oneself, for they are childish and stupid.

We put on our carefully designed masks in order to hide the child quivering within us. The child who, ever since the invention of the internet, has been able to reach out to others, to ask the questions that he would have otherwise buried, and to receive the comfort of company that he would have otherwise not had. The internet gives us the right to be human again.

The other comforting reality we were given through the invention the internet was to see just how many people are feeling the same way as we are. The most popular search result informs us just how many people are suffering from the same deep existential fears or emotional wounds that we ourselves are suffering from.

If only we could internalize this lesson, understand the pain that our fellow human beings are experiencing, how much pity and love we would we instantly feel for them? Why, we would be hugging everyone we met, with the hopes of comforting and being comforted by them!

Sam Harris in The End of Faith wrote in regards to the simple truth of of empathy-based morality: "Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?"

Indeed, were we humans more aware of the suffering of the woman sitting beside us on the bus, or the man who works down the hall, or the child who misbehaves in class, would not kindness sweep through the world, and pity and love fill the hearts of all men, women and children?

If there is a lesson to be learned from our Google searches it is this: That we are all suffering. We are all asking the deep unanswerable and, at times, childish questions. We all want to be accepted and loved. We are all, in other words, human, all too human.

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