After years of being a lazy-ass-lump on Sundays, my internal clock now is trained to do nothing but lay around on the bed, and finger the screen of the iPhone every weekend. Mostly I tend to read things that I’ve missed during the week, or catch up with other non-essential emails, and so on. No matter what or how I play with the screen of my smartphone, time fast forwards by at the least a couple of hours if not more than that.
Today, it is a Monday. And some things I read yesterday are still with me, fueling more metaphysical, and epistemological thoughts about our ever-connected lives; more metaphysical thoughts than epistemological.
Most of these thoughts arrive at one singular notional (shower) thought, and fuel it. One that, both, is scary, and is the realization of there being some kind of evolutionary play embedded within the conclusion of it.
Before I get on with it, I do understand that it may be a far fetched idea, and not everyone’s cup of tea, but there is something in that conclusion, which now aptly sits as the title of this post (to be honest, I gave the title ‘The Rise of an Omnipotent State’ a fair amount of thought, but it still felt lacking, for the reason outlined below) that makes me experience something, and makes me uncomfortable enough to write about it, and then publish it here.
What Is All This?
This post is a short, shower-thought experiment to understand the current nature of the Internet or rather to allow us to reach a conclusion about the Internet; that it has become a religion which may be in the process of birthing a new, omnipotent ‘God’; a religion that which we pray to, almost all the time, and one which in one sense or another stores knowledge about us on a very individualistic level. It is all post-factual speculation based on some critical reading, and observations.
The Nature of The Internet Today
It’s a normal day, like most other days. Nothing much differs between today, and yesterday. Every some other time She has some time free between whatever else that she is doing, and during this time she picks her phone up, uses a bunch of different apps to do a bunch of stuff using those apps, and the Internet. During these small break times (if we can call them that), She tends to go online, and use the Internet, for no particular task most of the time.
She’s now walking down the street, phone in one hand, her head bowed down to the street, eyes glued on to the screen. Maybe she is messaging someone? Maybe she is buying something? Maybe she is just trying to cope with the mundane activity of walking down the street. She seems somehow anxious, and less fulfilled. She keeps escaping into a screen.
She’s now at a restaurant that she walked over to. She sees her friends sitting around the table to far left corner of the restaurant. She walks up to the table, and takes a seat. She exchanges pleasantries. Now that, that’s over, she goes back to her phone screen, and so do her friends. Until the waiter arrives with yet another screen in His hand. He takes their order down, touching the screen firmly held by his one hand. The order is placed. She, her friends, and the waiter, all go back to their screens. She sees an advertisement of the shoes she has added into her online shopping basket on a website. It follows her no matter where she goes online. She takes it as a sign, and ends up buying those nice shoes.
She’s home now, and she’s ready to sleep. But She is still peering into that screen, right after she finished peering into another.
She slept late last night, something on the screen caught her attention. And now she is late to work. At work the shoes arrive, and she smiles. She opts to wear them, and break them in during her break time. Then she takes out her phone again, and starts browsing again. There is another ad, of some other thing, now following her.
It is the end of her work day. She seems stressed; almost hysterical. She is talking to someone, and explaining to them that she cannot log into her email account. She thinks her inbox has been hacked. If her inbox has been hacked, then so are her banking details, and other crucial (personal and non-personal) information about her. She is well aware that security is but a word that defines an illusion, and online-security is something lesser than that.
Whatever she does on the screen is tracked. It is recorded, and the recordings are stored somewhere in an abstract storage simply termed as the cloud. She willingly signed up to being tracked by a bunch of companies, maybe knowing fully well that her activities online would be tracked across the various apps, and websites she uses. She is also being tracked by algorithms online that evaluate her individualistically.
Some algorithms are comparing the posts she has liked on Facebook, and then making a judgment on her IQ, EQ, her social status, her economical status, and other measurements. Some algorithms know her BMI, and weight because of the dresses, and shoes that she bought online, and her age that she willingly has provided to a lot of different companies. Other algorithms are tracking her usage on her phone or what she watches on Netflix or which app she has installed on her phone before, then deleted it or her time spent on a particular website or analyzing the contents of her shopping cart or analyzing the contents of her inbox. Some other algorithms are keeping a track on her locations, and where she has frequented, and at what times of the day, using her smartphone or smart-car. Then there are yet other algorithms that use all that she does online, no matter which screen she uses, to analyze her potential of being a threat to her community; amongst other algorithms. Mostly she is unaware of all this going on behind the screens. All she wants is an escape or something or someone to take away her anxiety, her loneliness, her boredom, and give her some semblance of stability. She wants to depend on something bigger than herself. She is one in a three-billion who follow the same religion she belongs to.
More than 3 billion people are online today. They’re all praying, when they use the Internet through their medium of choice. Internet has become a religion, with its own philosophy, with more than three billion people to call upon as followers. We are in the middle of experiencing the birthing of a new God, that prescribes this religion that she follows; that we all follow — The Internet.
The Internet has become something that hardly anyone can ignore, for better or worse. From governments to farmers in third world countries are now online, and use the Internet in one form or the other. For most of her (the Internet’s) following, to sleep with a screen in hand or walk down the road with one or escape into it whenever we like to, it has become a new form of prayer.
Our hopes, activities, and almost everything that can be done (or not) online, is now do-able, and acquirable via the Internet. It has become a place to go for answers to.
Our current economies, markets, and social structures are now based online. Countries like India are pushing to convert physical money to a digital one. Most paperwork for most important things to get done, is now done online. Most disruptions in the online world, now create more than just ripples in the offline one. First I assumed that the Internet may be becoming a new state. A new ‘land’ that needs governing; wild, wild west - for the lack of a better term. But it has outgrown that label ten times over.
Online there are no boundaries between people, races, castes, languages, and countries. We are well aware of what the Internet means as a commutation tool or as the only business channel or as a knowledge warehouse. We are also aware of countless governments and corporations wanting to exploit the internet to use it as a tool that monitors our every move online, and offline using the same Internet that we use. We are aware that some countries already do this, and have been successful in converting the Internet into a tool to create an Omnipotent state. But, the Internet has outgrown from there too.
We often attribute the attribute of omnipotence to God, along with the attribute of an all seeing, and knowing entity. Well, the Internet is birthing such a being; it seems that this new being will be omnipotent, and will know almost everything about us (and intrusively so); becoming more omnipotent year by year, it will start acquiring, and changing the definition, and nature of a God. Far fetched? I know. But, what if?
If we perceive the Internet as a religious philosophy that we use everyday, irrespective if we are aware of it or not, then it has certainly gained the rights to acquire, and change the definition of God. Internet is becoming a symbol of the Supreme Being. One that monitors all, and is present everywhere, and knows almost everything about everyone.
There will be a time, if it hasn’t been already reached, that the Internet will know more about you than you do. And precisely because of this transition in effect, we are responsible for it; same as all followers of any religion or God are responsible for theirs.
As this God of The Internet, is still in its birthing phase, I believe it to be a crucial time, one where we are responsible for whom will take that mantle of God in the religion of the Internet; of whom we shall allow to take the mantle of God; especially when governments are trying to govern the Internet, companies in both sectors along with the governments are trying to get as many more people as then can, as fast as they can, onto the Internet grid because of capitalism, and in more than one case because of state sponsored legislations termed as national security measures. This religion (like the more successful ones) that we all follow is already mired in censorship, revolutions (both online, and offline), revolts, piracies, social re-engineering, market re-engineering, purpose bringing, and attributing a new set of values to the ‘i’ in the individual, while creating a new, ever growing individualistic community (something I am guilty of too) in words like ‘share’, ‘like’, and ‘tweet’.
We are responsible for the delivery of this new God, and probably the only one which has grown beyond our imaginable boundaries. We are responsible for what this new God would censor, monitor, and mirror; we are responsible for delivering to it, its own nature.
Do you pray?