The Infinite Library
How do we navigate this infinite library?
There are so many choices to make, competing ideas to consider when making said choices, and mediums through which those ideas are absorbed and prepared for choice-battle. With endless possible lives to live, beliefs to believe, truths to be told, how does anyone do anything? How are we all not frozen inside an iceberg of decidophobia?
If philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche were the psychiatrist here, his prescription would be that you—over years, if not decades—seek out and accumulate an understanding of as many diverse beliefs as a human being could possibly carry then whittle them down to only those that ring true with the true-true-you.
Obviously, Nietzsche did not live in the age of the Internet.
I think even he would agree, had he been born a century later, that such advice is no longer practical. Nowadays, we are bombarded with information (no seeking required!) and never-ending means through which to find more. To make matters worse, the honest works of our infinite library have been placed on the same shelves as ill-intentioned disinformation and shiny, bot-produced hogwash.
Quick history detour: when the Printing Press was invented circa mid fifteenth century, the capacity for literary production and dispersion expanded to the many. Of course, the reach of such productions was still limited to how much paper and ink could be mustered as well as by the logistics of transporting documents cross-country. But I was surprised to read recently that, even with such limitations, the Printing Press’s introduction brought about a spike in conspiracy believers and literary dishonesty almost immediately.
End of detour, summation of learning: This isn’t a twenty-first century issue we are facing, it’s a human one. When ape-man is given multiple berry options, it is best to provide him some guidance otherwise he will occasionally opt for the misshapen and fatally poisonous one.
That’s not to say things haven’t changed since our caveman days. With the advent of the church, truth-creation was centralized to a select few elite—a power that was later transferred to the writer and the scientist after that foreshadowing hiccup from the Printing Press.
Then, when we became a democracy, we proclaimed that a system in which all citizens’ opinions mattered was better than one in which only a few’s did. Needless to say, this was the right choice given the alternatives—but it is important to recognize that democracy didn’t come absent blemishes.
Now, in the Internet Age, anyone can post anything—and find anything. Reality, in so far as reality means the distinction of truth from falsehood, is no longer the same as it was before. We did not evolve to live in this scenario. We do not have the time to digest all sides of all issues in addition to leading our daily lives.
Nevertheless, this is the era we were given. And it has granted us a terrible power, for now we have become the truth-creators and reality-makers.
And, as we all know, with great power [insert remainder of Spider-Man quote...which would have been shorter than this bracketed text].
As the royal arbiters of truth, knighted by both Lady Interweb and Daddy Democracy, we have an obligation to treat our online activities as we would prefer a nuclear physicist treat the construction of a nearby powerplant—very, very cautiously (new golden rule?).
We must act like our opinions and social media musings will decide the fate of the country because, guess what, collectively they will. Unless the asteroid strikes first.
This is not to silence voices nor to say that we are alone in this, we are not. But we are responsible for what we post, so do not toss due diligence to the wind and, when life’s hectic-ness demands that you outsource your opinions, do so only to reliable sense-makers who you trust not have hidden agendas (conscious or unconscious) and who do want nothing more than to provide their well thought-out and honest takes on reality to their followers.
Most of all, do not stay silent on what you believe to be true—even if it goes against convention. Use your twenty-first century reality-bending superpowers for good.
And don’t worry, it’s only the fate of democracy dancing upon your fingertips :)
Influences for this post:
The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
This Quilette Article: https://quillette.com/2021/07/05/blessed-are-the-sense-makers/?fbclid=IwAR2ep0kuHxGAHXjUKwU2Eifw1qvW1OlTrgHDX0wQZg0T1LC-iFXbYcaQJ9k