The Internet Encourages a Pre-Copernican Understanding of the Universe
When Copernicus put the sun at the center of the solar system in 1543 instead of the Earth, it dealt a major blow to the self-esteem of people who needed to be at the center of it all.
Andrew Keen is an Internet entrepreneur who founded Audiocafe.com in 1995 and built it into a popular first-generation Internet company. He is currently the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, a Senior Fellow at CALinnovates, the host of the “Keen On” Techonomy chat show, and a columnist for CNN.
He is the author of three books, his latest being The Internet is Not the Answer, which explores the Internet's negative effects on our psychology, economy, and culture. His many critiques of the Internet and Silicon Valley have led to him being described as Internet culture's conscience.
Andrew Keen: The contemporary Internet is based on a fundamental lie. We all are told that it’s social. We’re all told that it allows connectivity, allows us to create community. But the reverse is actually true. It’s atomizing us. It’s not creating real community. It’s actually separating us from people of different opinions of different cultures. It’s increasingly an echo chamber effect where we’re only ever connected with people who agree with us in the first place. But even more troubling, these social networks aren’t really social. They’re platforms for the self. They’re platforms for us to build brands. The clearest manifestation of this is our obsession with the selfie. The selfie becomes the cultural form of the Internet. Wherever we go, we picture ourself in front of mausoleums, in front of — as I say in the book in front of people committing suicide at Auschwitz. At every imaginable place, in spite of all the bad taste associated with it, we are, in our minds at least, our deluded minds, the center of our universe. I argue again in terms of progress that we’ve gone back to a pre-Copernican understanding of the universe where everything revolves around us. There’s nothing social about that. And the end consequence is twofold. Firstly, we’re making complete fools of ourselves. That narcissism, that indulgence is embarrassing. And in the long run we’re going to regret it both as a species and individually. When we look back at those absurd photos of ourself, where we’re shamelessly exposing our own self-importance, we’re going to be severely embarrassed by it. But secondly it also reflects the reality of the Internet. It’s about the individual, it’s not about the social. And the Internet is alienating, isolating, fragmenting ourselves. It’s weakening community. That’s, of course, the reason why it hasn’t generated real political movements. It creates explosions, the Arab Spring, Occupy, but no legacy, no political parties, no movements, no real foundations of political change.
The Internet isn't the bastion of community, connectivity, and social life that we're constantly told it is, says Andrew Keen. It's increasingly an echo chamber where people go to confirm their prefabricated opinions about politics, society, and the world. Moreover, the platforms uniquely designed to facilitate social interaction fail because they are, in actuality, pure platforms for the self. Keen worries that we have returned to the Ptolemaic belief that we, as humans, are at the center of the universe and that all knowledge emanates from one central point — the selfie. He cautions that submitting our material lives to the virtual sphere could leave us dissatisfied, disappointed, and unfulfilled.