Construct(About this image)
A recent class I enrolled in on the history of western civilization, had me read Plato’s Republic Book VII: Section I. The allegory Plato presented was of a prisoner in a cave being released and seeing the moon, stars and sun for the first time. In this story, Plato’s cave represents the limited beliefs and the material world that immediately surrounds us. The outside world and it’s components, i.e. moon, stars and sun, represent knowledge and enlightenment. If the prisoner was returned to the cave, his fellow captives wouldn’t believe what the escapee saw, they would have no way of understanding what was beyond their knowledge of the cave. The premise of the text is we know of the world by what we surround ourselves with. This synopsis is a gross simplification of the story’s message, however at it’s core it resonated with my own belief structure.
The allegories depicted hold value in contemporary society, and most likely has for societies throughout the last 2,000 plus years. At a glance, it’s not hard to see a correlation in the text with events happening in our politics and communities. Understanding and knowledge of the world has become polarized within isolated groups of individuals. Openness to the world outside our sphere is shrinking, we wall ourselves off from people with different ideas. Speaking allegorically, if the darkness inside Plato’s cave is our understanding and knowledge of the world, then what is the cave?
Plato uses physical space, the cave, as the perpetrator of darkness in The Republic. Therefore, would it be reasonable to assert that the manipulator of contemporary beliefs and values, is an object and also space? From a quantitive perspective of the cause, looking to the most prevalent object accompanied by people – the smartphone, we find a commonality. However, without the internet a smartphone is not smart, but combined they create a cave, a darkness that limits our perception.
This situation, our self invoked blindness, is what distress me. 20 years ago I began working in the internet industry, the possibilities and potential our new technology could deliver was exciting. Knowledge, communication and connectivity had been unleashed and it seemed there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle. What we have done to our creation is a perversion of its nature. It’s now a weapon being wielded against us, by groups hoping to gain power and corporations to subliminally manipulate or implant ideas.
My evidence to this claim is this: I worked in advertising as a web developer for a number of agencies throughout my career. In the start, web properties existed to promote or sell a companies product. As the industry matured, the purpose of our endeavors took a more sinister turn. We were no longer selling anything, the entire intention of our work became to saturate a communication channel with brand keywords and triggers that would associate a consumers perception of an object or act with a brand. In essence, we were manipulating the thoughts of people for the gain of a corporation.
Like the prisoners of the cave depicted in The Republic, we have imprisoned our peers in a virtual cave of darkness. Exploiting their thoughts and even identities for the benefit of the powerful. My example of manipulation and the growing darkness is small and seemingly inconsequential. Consider though, if corporations are willing to employ these low level tactics, it would be reasonable to assume they would harness the power of a device that reports a users activity, identify their vulnerabilities and coerce them. This is not something I signed up for when I started my journey into technology.