The Internet is causing mass homogenization of human identity, making us all look the same.
We use the same tools and social networks, fitting into the same templates, designed by companies to maximize page views and profits (with some notable exceptions like Craigslist).
Most online experiences are made, like fast food, to be cheap, easy, and addictive: appealing to our hunger for connection but rarely serving up nourishment. Shrink-wrapped junk food experiences are handed to us for free by social media companies, and we swallow them up eagerly, like kids given buckets of candy with ads on all the wrappers.
These experiences are sensitive neither to individual humans nor to the human collective, but only to page views and growth (in a corporate, not personal sense).
It is fitting that these companies call their customers “users”.
As we fill in the same boxes, answer the same questions, and express ourselves in the same generic ways, we might think this convergence of identity is a good thing, leading to some kind of global unity or mass empathy. But true empathy comes not from forcing people all to be the same, but from helping people to appreciate their differences.
Our online tools do a great job at breadth (hundreds of friends, thousands of tweets), but a bad job at depth. We live increasingly superficial lives, reducing our relationships to caricatures and our personalities to billboards, as we speed along at 1,000 miles an hour.
We trade self-reflection for busyness, gorging ourselves on it and drowning in it, without recognizing the violence of that busyness, which we perpetrate against ourselves and at our peril.
For the last 100 years—from letters, to phones, to faxes, to emails, to chats, to texts, to tweets—communication has been getting shorter and faster, but we are approaching a terminal velocity.
I doubt there is a shorter means of communication than the tweet, unless we start to make monosyllabic grunts at each other or communicate silently, brain to brain. Brief gestures of communication can be beautiful, but can also be shallow. So what will happen next? Will we stop at the tweet, or will we bounce back in the other direction, suddenly craving more depth? I’d bet on the latter.
But even if we start to crave more depth, we cannot run away to a more primitive time.
The momentum of technological growth is too strong for us to prevent it from defining our future. Like it or not, our future world will largely be digital.
Instead of fleeing to the forest, we must find the humanity in the machine and learn to love it. If we decide the humanity does not yet exist there in the ways we expect, then we must create it.