In Phenomenology of Perception (1945), philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty emphasizes the body as the vehicle of being in the world—it is through our embodied actions that we perceive the world, and such bodily conduct cannot be separated from our reflective mind. Today, an interconnected network has been incorporated into our body schema. We sense ourselves and each other through submarine cables, act according to the feed’s feedback, and anticipate notification pings even when logged off.
By design, social platforms offer an excess of stimuli and intermittent variable rewards. Theorist Byung-Chul Han noted that such fragmentation of attention turns us into wild animals, forever distracted by background events. In this digital wilderness, the extremely online treat smartphones not as a vessel of information but a reflexive limb, rapidly scrolling and uploading shitposts or unfiltered text memes to the feed. Like a kitten’s yawn, a post needs not to be informative to be expressive; it needs not to be original to be life-affirming—“I’m post-everything, I post everything”, said a user in a Discord server.
Such online existence is epitomized by the lainpilled aesthetic. Emerged with the pandemic, the term originates from the 1998 anime series Serial Experiments Lain. The show follows Lain Iwakura, a school girl in suburban Japan, as she descends and merges with The Wired. Featuring avant-garde imaginary and non-linear narratives, Lain predicted how the digital bleeds into real life. The power lines’ humming resonates with the frequency of the Earth’s organic network. Would this existence destroy the embodied mind, or would it lead to a planetary singularity of consciousness?
We do not need the confirmation from Facebook whistle-blowers to know the negative impact of social network and online addiction. Nevertheless, are we able to change the unjust nature of our cyber lifeworld? Along last year's crypto craze were the various attempts to rebuild the internet, such as a reactionary, girly internet or a return to traditional GeoCities. On an individual level, perhaps habitual patterns can be changed by paying attention to the bodily action. A tech Youtuber suggests replacing the frictionless smartphone with the desktop computer, thus encouraging active input rather than passive viewing of the network.
While Byung-Chul Han mourns the inability of wild animals for deep contemplation, the possibility of a network spirituality should not be ruled out. Another world is possible, and perhaps simply vibing together in a field of perception is divine enough.
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