Whenever someone tells me that they’ve arrived at a certain conclusion after doing research on the internet, I feel a certain skepticism arise. What I’ve encountered, too often, is that what people mean by ‘research’ is that they plunged into the endless astral abyss of the online world in search of confirmation for something they already believed, discarding anything that pointed in another direction. This style of journey very easily draws a person into one or another of the countless maelstroms that crowd the vast oceans of ideation and imagery. These are popularly known as ‘rabbit holes’, implying a maze of subterranean tunnels that lead nowhere else but in circles.
In an age of growing animosity and paranoia born out of divergent views of reality, this approach is rarely reliable. Too often it leads to delusion and at worst it can be deadly. When a person is online they’ve essentially parted from this physical plane and entered a bardo state, where every kind of illusion, every spirit, every angel and every demon abides in their own pocket universes, and every separate pocket at some level is connected to every other.
These days there’s a great deal of imaginative speculation around the concept of multiverses. For anyone who has even casually investigated the lore connected with the occult or magical worlds this is certainly nothing new. Neither is it strange territory for anyone familiar with the hallucinatory frontiers revealed by mind altering substances. For the experienced explorer the pitfalls and dangers inherent in crossing the boundaries between worlds are quite familiar.
Actually, we cross those boundaries whenever we open a book, go to the movies, listen to music, turn on television or the radio, or look at a painting or photograph. We do it when we meditate, when we daydream, when we tell each other stories. If we are truly present and open we immerse ourselves in parallel dimensions when in church or temple. Everyone living in the universe of electronic media is used to migrating between radically different realms from second to second as they are bombarded by narratives and counter narratives continually interrupted by commercials and trips to the refrigerator.
We’ve come to consider all of these journeys to be safe and well contained, but this wasn’t always the case. We had to learn how to receive and to navigate as well as to comprehend what we encounter through these myriad windows and doors. Mostly it’s been a matter of submiting to the conscious intent of the authors or composers who guide us through worlds they’ve created. This is an act of trust and surrender, taken more or less with conscious and specific intent and the assumption we’ll be let off the bus more or less at the place from where we embarked.
When the photograph was invented the linear dimensions of time and space were irrevocably breached. The four dimensions of spacetime are reduced to two through an entirely mechanical and alchemical process, independent of the impressionistic intercession of a painting or a drawing. A photograph is more than a mere impression, it’s an actual artifact, in which a particular moment continues to exist, and can be endlessly reproduced and experienced in succeeding moments.
The internet as we know it today didn’t really emerge until the graphic image took its place beside the display of text, along with the innovation of hyperlinks that could connect any image or text or sequence to any other. At that point the dimensional breach first created by the photograph became an explosion that began to tear our world into countlessly proliferating fragments, challenging all of our existing conceptions of civilization and order.
I entered the virtual world in 1984 when I purchased my first Macintosh computer and connected the dial up modem to explore various discussion groups and communities springing up all around the world. Very early on I began to learn about the power and potential toxicity of the words and images I encountered and expressed online. In those days conversation dominated commerce. There were no smartphones. I felt like an explorer on an island newly forming and expanding under my feet. Most of us who were there have some nostalgia for those times gone by.
Two or three generations later not only content and delivery have evolved but whole new languages are being invented online almost daily. The whole world is being absorbed and transformed in its encounter with virtual dimensions. I sometimes wonder if there’s anything of value an old timer can contribute as the tides sweep us all along.
Be careful. Question everything. Beware of obsessive or reactive behavior. Notice how your online activity effects your relationship with the offline world. Have other people in your life. Try to be kind.
It’s all too easy to get lost in an ocean of chaos. We become desperate for a coherent line or narrative that can make sense of it all. There are as many lifelines as there are points of attraction. They are all hard to resist and not all lead in healthy directions. We’ve spent centuries learning the tools of reason, science and intuition, in order to navigate our way through an increasingly complex and conflicted environment. We will need all of these tools to survive. The choices we make in the virtual world are no different from the choices we make in the physical one. Each affects our friendships, our affiliations and our very survival.
Research tip: Don’t get lost in the library.