Don’t Confuse the Internet with Reality

“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”

– Marshall Mcluhan

Imagine taking out your cell phone and pulling up Facebook or Twitter, and one of the first things you see on your screen is a commercial about a product. What do you do? Do you simply ignore it and scroll down? Do you take a look at it with an open mind (maybe because you see that Cody and Tucker have liked the advertiser)? Or do you click on the icon in the top right corner and choose to hide the ad?

Anyway, now that you have either ignored or dealt with the pop-up ad, you get on with browsing and after seeing only 4 or 5 posts, there it is, another sponsored ad shows up.

Sometimes, the advertisement is actually interesting. Once you accidentally watch the ad for a couple of seconds or click on it, ads like this start showing up on your screen every time you visit the page.

Social media services provide us with plenty of potentially useful and interesting information, catering to our personal interest. But because they are so tailored to our behavior, what we get is an alternate reality built around what these platforms “think” of us.

Much of the internet is like this. With the help of cookies, sites remember our preferences during our visit, thus providing “predictions” for our behavior in the future. While this provides convenience, our perception of things is being shaped by things that are brought to our attention more or less without our consent. We have the option to hide them or ignore them one by one, but we can’t change the basic rules, which ensure that everything we see is tailored to us. This is such a significant departure from offline reality which most people fail to appreciate, even as the internet continues to grow in importance in everyone’s life.

Offline, we encounter the world as it exists on its own terms. But on the internet, different platforms are trying to project images and information at us, wrapping us in an alternate universe. This can even extend out of the virtual realm and impact our real-life actions and behaviors, if we aren’t careful and mindful.

When we go into the nature, a bookstore or a shopping mall, we are intentionally seeking something new and are open for potential mind disruptions. But, of course, we clearly don’t want that all the time, for example, when we are checking the news feeds or what our friends have been up to. What is intended to be a private moment isn’t supposed to be contaminated by irrelevancies. After all, how much do you enjoy being bombarded by unwanted information while chilling on our cozy sofa?

“Instead of scurrying into a corner and wailing about what media are doing to us, one should charge straight ahead and kick them in the electrodes.”

– Marshall Mcluhan

It seems, however, that there is not much we can do to prevent our online communications and experiences from being trivia-infested. But fortunately, there are still some small things we can do, all of which will be done at a small cost of convenience. It is up to you to decide whether or not it is worth doing. Aside from that, remaining aware and vigilant of the pollution that online ads can do to us is definitely a step in the right direction.

Don’t Confuse the Internet with Reality was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Publication date: 
05/19/2019 - 15:44