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Digitally disembodied

You are reading this on the Internet, so you have probably developed some level of digitally-enabled “ambient awareness” - a constantly-updated sense of what’s happening near and far. The Internet can extend our senses round the world, even if it's just getting the latest snaps from family and friends.

In an excellent article in the New York Times, Clive Thompson talked about the cumulative effect of social media updates: “the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives.”

That’s the upside. The downside is that constantly looking at screens can cut you off from your other senses.

Some of the most digitally-connected people I know notice very little in the world around them: the shifting light, the cooling breeze, the new display in the store window, the fragrance of blossom and sour tang of diesel fumes. The physical world may as well not exist for them.

No matter how many megabits per second the Internet delivers, all that information is slow and thin compared with the huge amounts of sensory information we can access all the time. What good is never missing a beat on all those digital updates if you don’t notice the beating of your own heart?

Image source: Disemboded: Micro-project III, MJ Quek

Who are you fooling?

I'm a sucker for honesty and authenticity and integrity and congruence and being true to yourself and all that good stuff. I've even said in public that I have a life-long aversion to bullshit, including my own. That seems to resonate with people.

But nice as it is, it's also a bit apple pie-in-the-sky. It scores well on lofty idealism, but badly on down-and-dirty realism. Time for some Groucho Marx: ‘The secret of life is honesty and fair-dealing; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’

That sounds like cheap cynicism for laughs but it's a lot better than that. It neatly sums up an uncomfortable truth explored at length by Robert Trivers in "Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others".

The essence of Trivers's insight is that people are good at knowing when someone is lying to them. So the more you really believe what you say, the better you can convince others. And if what you say isn't true, you have to start by lying to yourself.  Does that remind you of anyone?

Image credit: Valentin de Boulogne, Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice, c. 1618/20