It gives me peace of mind to think that maybe, just maybe, my digital soul will survive into the far future — long after my meatspace body has decomposed.
Before I started posting, my thoughts were more abstract and non-verbal — like blobs of play-doh floating around a zero gravity chamber. I used to spend a lot of time re-molding these amorphous thought forms into Twitter-friendly nuggets. But nowadays my internal monologue speaks tweet by default. Thoughts bubble up from the depths of my psyche readymade for the timeline, already twisted into the pre-programmed shape of a Post. I wonder if the algorithm is starting to interfere with the way my subconscious works.
Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, I’ll scroll through my old posts just to remind myself of myself. It feels like looking in the mirror. I’m swallowing my (digital) self so that I’m me instead of someone else.
When I look at the gradient of a beautiful sunset, or the hairline cracks in a concrete sidewalk, or the murky texture of a cumulonimbus cloud, I can’t help but think about how hard it’d be to make something like that in Unity. It’s almost like the world is a big game engine and God is the supernatural renderer. Maybe one of these days I’ll turn around too quickly and spot a glitch.
When I’m hanging out with friends who spend a lot of time on the app, we can basically speak a whole different language together. We’ve memorized enough videos that we can have a whole ass conversation using only obscure quotes and dances. It’s a lot more full bodied than regular English. Sometimes I forget how dense the memes are until I try to explain them to my parents and realize that there are layers and layers of references and duets compressed into one 60 second vid. I vibe a lot better with people who are steeped in TikTok culture because the emotions they express are usually based on popular trends, which makes them way easier for me to relate to.
But my digitally augmented memory is a dumb nostalgia machine that dispenses pellets of my past to boost engagement numbers. Whenever I take a photo, I’m always thinking about how my future self is going to end up consuming it as a memory.
Like, the other day, I went to send a text to a friend that I haven’t talked to in a while. I was expecting a blank canvas, but instead our thread was polluted by an awkward conversation we had 4 years ago. I’m strung out across time, haunted by the ghosts of my old messages, statuses, photos, videos. Another weird thing about social media is that when you change your profile pic, it also changes the profile pic on all your old posts. It’s super jarring to see something I wrote a long time ago right next to a picture of what I look like today. That photo of me next to those words… they aren’t even the same people!
It’s easy to lie to yourself about what you really like and who you really are, but your recommendation algorithms and search history keep you honest. It took me a solid 20 years to figure out that I’m gay but the TikTok algorithm figured it out in like 47 minutes lol.
At this point I can almost smell the demographic labels I’ve been tagged with, and it’s honestly kind of comforting to feel known. Who needs astrology or Myers Briggs when you have all these apps?
I know you spoke with Audrey Tang, the Digital Minister of Taiwan, and I think the work that she's doing there, and we've interviewed here for our podcast as well represents. Really thinking about how to reboot the core principles of democracy, but in a digital way for the 21st century, under the threat of China trying to sow disinformation in Taiwan and being able to do so reasonably successfully and producing a more coherent society. And you've always said the goal of democracy and information technologies, isn't just connecting people because it's an interesting that as soon as we connected people everywhere, the most popular technology in the world to build was stonewalls. The real goal should be harmonizing people. And I think that goal is a really wise one and rediscovering what we really want here, because to maybe take it full circle, this is Aza's line from the past. If you go back to our original problem statement that we started with this interview, that the problem of humanity is our paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and God-like technology that the answer might be something like we have to understand and embrace our paleolithic emotions. We have to upgrade our medieval institutions and philosophy, and we have to have the wisdom to guide our God-like technology.
Elections is one way to safeguard that when every person has a vote and can express his or her opinions. But there are other important tools like separation of powers, the court should be independent, the media should be independent, like basic civil and human rights which cannot be violated even if the majority is in favor of that. That's at least as important as having elections, if not more important. And what's happening now is that this traditional tool of elections become even more problematic because it's becoming increasingly easy to manipulate it.
When you build a massive system based on surveillance and data processing, it's the kind of system that by definition, a human being cannot understand. So you are building a system that inevitably will escape your, not just your control, your understanding
I would say, we see the collapse of nationalism. I talked earlier about the positive side of nationalism. Nationalism, not as hatred of foreigners in minorities, but nationalism as feeling solidarity with millions of strangers in your country that you care about them, you feel that you share interests with them. So for instance, you are willing to pay taxes so that they will have good health care and education. And we are seeing the collapse of this kind of nationalism, all over the world. And many leaders that present themselves as nationalists like Donald Trump or Bolsonaro, they are actually anti nationalists. They are doing their best to destroy the national community and the bonds of national solidarity. We have reached a point in the US when Americans are more afraid of each other than they are afraid of anybody else on the planet.