“What happens when we extrapolate Plato’s cave allegory to the cyber-cave experiences of the millennials, and the way in which they experienced their exodus from online reality? This thought experiment produces an image of a group of young adults clustered together in the twilight of their virtual home. Sitting with their backs to the entrance, their faces are lit up by the interfaces that provide access to the world of phenomena. Interfaces that consist of countless clusters of pixels, minuscule dots whose density and colour determine the group’s perception of reality. Behind them as they huddle over their screens, there is – not fire, as in Plato’s version of the story – but a battery of whirring servers belonging to corporations like Google and Facebook, who project their bits-and-bytes shadows as reality. The group has grown up in this world of screens, this is their reality; they spend their days Liking it or texting about it. Then Anne, followed by a few others, suddenly tears herself away from the projections on her screen, stands up and walks towards the cave’s exit, past the servers and into the sunlight. Once outside, freed from the digital shadows that have been her world and blinking in the bright light of an analogue reality, she feels very fortunate and sorry for those who have stayed behind. After spending some time in that analogue realm, she realises more than ever how ‘unreal’ the Instagram images and Facebook profiles of people are ‘who you’ve never heard speak or seen walking about’. And of those who remained behind, she says, ‘People don’t realise that it’s not the case that the world doesn’t have an Instagram filter’. ” A little philosophy of digital abstinence
Today, you could do worse than spend under 10 minutes watching the 1973 animation above narrated by Orson Welles over a quiet favourite hot drink. Let your unconscious work out the connections to your digital life. If you need more obvious connections, the summary of ‘A little philosophy of digital abstinence’ obliges.
The book asks many interesting questions relevant to the feasibility of finding digital stillness in the digital realm itself:
“What happens if you go offline in a world that is constantly online? If you put your telephone aside, what will take its place? Do you even still exist? Philosopher, author and columnist Hans Schnitzler talked to millennials who had undergone a digital detox (in his capacity as lecturer he supervised over a hundred students undertaking this experiment, interviewing fifteen of them in depth). Their experiences paint a picture, as recognisable as it is disconcerting, of the struggles of homo smartphonus. We are always accessible and connected, but what price are we actually paying for this?”
[and if any publishers wanting to translate it from Dutch are reading this: Do it now, please]