Post-truth and Isolation
Super-connected & Lonely
How can we be the loneliest society at the same time be undoubtedly the most connected? It’s a paradox that suggests an underlying complexity, says Charisse Kenion. Furthermore, some of the active ingredients in this cocktail of circumstances are new. That is to say, they did not exist in the same way they did before now. Newness is not an easy concept to digest as we might first think. Faced with the prospect of an unquantified reality, our brain is more likely to seek out familiar comparisons (good or bad). When it comes to the unsolved crimewave of increasing social isolation, the prime suspect is digital and the body of evidence is compelling.
There’s a New Sheriff in Town and it’s Digital
The conventional sense-making approach of posing questions and studying the resulting data over time no longer seems to work well in this digital “wild west”. There’s a new sheriff in town and the game is changing fast. The data that describes our personal ecology has become highly voluminous and fast-moving. When it comes to understanding what makes us humans tick, the old methods are no longer fit for purpose.
At the same time, the new religion of faceless, decision-making algorithms and sophisticated targeting models, quite rightly, raise questions about ethics and governance. We don’t trust our experts, politicians and authority figures as much as we used to. Possibly because, as the Brexit debacle between the UK and the rest of Europe demonstrates, they too are struggling to communicate through the miasma and connect with citizens. Into the gaps step influencers, celebrities, polemicists and trolls. The perfect recipe for what is commonly referred to as the post-truth era. Meanwhile, the man on the Clapham omnibus is all the time getting more confused.
The Times They Are a Changin’
Little surprise then, the civic and geopolitical discourse has become increasingly strained in a vain attempt to connect to the precious middle ground. The democratisation of data is accelerating while the rules of the “game” are galloping hard to keep pace. Why should anyone defer to experts, when a quick browse on our favourite search engine will furnish us with any dataset we choose to soothe our worries and reinforce what we already know or want to believe?
Are Social Bubbles the Harbinger of Isolation?
“It’s true because I googled it”, is better than taking advice from our friends over a drink, right? And even when we do manage to avoid those particular cognitive biases, we are inevitably surrounded by people who embody them. Thanks to the bubble creating effects of the aforementioned algorithms and the AI bots that create the online digital matrix we’re implored to inhabit. The result is a kind of social osmosis. The more diverse society becomes, the more we’re equally exposed to the same post-truth narratives.
So against this backdrop, Charisse’s idea is strikingly pertinent. Maybe, through the medium of photography, we can get a glimpse of a fuller picture of isolation. It feels right somehow that amid the digital cacophony it might take the eye of an artist to frame a question that cuts through one of the most complex conundrums of modern times.