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Computers -- Isolation and Togetherness -- Virtuality's Confusing State

Updated: Nov 25

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One of the more contemporary questions people may ask themselves and others today is whether or not the increasing usage and consumption of computers (phones included) make us lonelier or more connected to the world, or in other words, more together. Based on my contemplations, I believe it's safe to say that the answer is a complex interplay of yes and no:

Yes, because we can become detached from our local communities. The charm and addictive potential of the digital world can lead to a diminished focus on face-to-face interactions and engagement within our physical surroundings. Nowadays, many of us may be connected to people we never even seen physically, more than we are to those who are in our close, physical vicinity, like neighbors or our local cultural scene.

And no, because the potential for global connection is immense. Computers have opened up opportunities for communication and collaboration with people from all corners of the globe, fostering connections that would have been unimaginable just several decades ago. Nowadays, people can even build massive content distribution channels and businesses from the comfort of their own laptop in bed, without having to get out much from one's home.

This, in a way, necessitates us to try and redefine what a hermit means. Throughout history hermits were physical isolators who had very little communication with others, if at all. Nowadays, with the entrance of the virtual dimension into our lives, people can become physical hermits while still maintaining contact with the world at large and have stable jobs using their computers alone. They are, technically, still physical hermits, for they see very few people, if at all, on a regular basis. Just like myself.

If I lived in an era before computers, my alternative to writing articles on Quora and Philosocom would be a solitary endeavor, confined to my own thoughts and ideas and some paper to write on. The process of sharing my work would've been uncertain, relying on the whims of publishers to either accept or reject my submissions at a far greater price than what I pay virtually to keep Philosocom afloat. Even if my articles were to be published, they would likely face censorship and would only reach those who happen to read the specific newspaper or magazine. The viral reach and potential impact we enjoy today would be a distant dream.

Additionally, if my books would've been greatly criticized, they could've faced the possibility of being burnt to the ground. And like with Baruch Spinoza, I could've liveed as an excommunicated, former member of a community I happened to live and/or be born in. All because I had my own share of original viewpoints.

Using my personal life as example, it becomes evident that many writers today, myself included, would've face significant far greater isolation without the presence of computers. That includes our writings. Our ability to connect with a global audience, uncompromised by the limitations of traditional publishing, is a testament to the transformative impact of technology.

Undeniably, people were more isolated before the use of computers, rather than after their introduction. This is because computers appeal greatly their potential for global visibility and recognition.

Nevertheless, a justified claim asserts that computers have driven us to unseen-before levels of isolation, as well. The Japanese hikikomori, a culture of extreme modern-day hermits who spend nearly their entire waking hours alone, interacting primarily with computers or televisions, serves as an example where the opposite holds true – computers and the internet can encourage social withdrawal.

Well, I'm technically a hikikomori myself. Largely due to the rationale behind a concept I devised and call "The Same Result Problem". Why should I bother engaging in social-based interactions, which I dislike, when I can philosophize and learn from the safety of where I reside?

The impact of computers is so severe on humanity, that in China, individuals who spend excessive time on computers are sent to rehabilitation camps, otherwise known as internet detox camps. While I'm uncertain whether these camps still exist, as China is an extremely secretive country, their existence suggests there is a wide recognition for excessive computer use, and its impact on human isolation.

This aligns with the notion that communism, a loyally-committed collective ideology might view comptuers as a potential barrier to maintaining collective unity in a contemporary authoritarian society. It is similar to Buddhist monks in China's far-earlier history, who were viewed in antagonism for not being part of general society and for not fulfilling their "civic duties". It is evident in Emperor Wuzong's persecution of buddhism for this rationale in the 9th century.

As you can see computers have a revolutionary potential on human collectives that extends beyond mere communication, but also in the shaping of said collectives. Here are some additional thoughts on the topic:

  • Correlation does not equal causation. The mere fact that people spend more time using computers doesn't necessarily imply that they are lonelier. Numerous factors, such as social isolation, mental health concerns, and life circumstances, could contribute to loneliness. Let us try and avoid generalizations as much as possible, for they are easily proven wrong by existing exceptions.

  • Computers possess the duality of serving both beneficial and grim purposes. They can lead to new connections, new knowledge, and global expansion of organizations and enterprises. However, they can also lead to self-isolation, the quick spread of misinformation, and addictive behaviors of several kinds. Let us not appeal to novelty so easily.

  • The decision to utilize computers is ultimately a personal one. However, it's crucial to be aware of the potential advantages and disadvantages of computer usage to make informed decisions about their integration into our lives. We might be sacrificing more than we take account for, as with much of our short-term-based decisions. The moral thing to do is to be responsible for any decision we personally make. However, it is unrealistic to expect others, like online trolls, to do the same.

The answer to whether computers foster loneliness or connection hinges on how we utilize them. If we engage in live streaming, we are technically connected with our audience. But livestreams can also be used to create dysfunctions in societies, as with the example of livestreamer Asian which I covered before in the world's most unproductive jobs. If we write online articles, we exist in a "dual state" of solitude (during the writing process) and connection (when our work is read by individuals worldwide). The writing business can be a very solitary activity and of course writing is largely done today through computers.

Immersion in games without meaningful interactions, primarily with non-human/player characters (NPCs or bots), mirrors the isolation of a traditional hermit. Something I call the "Robot Lover's Dilemma" further compels us to think about the importance of human society when people might begin, gradually, to prefer AI companionship over human beings.

The very nature of computer and smartphone usage is complex, as in something I call the philosophy of virtuality. The act of using these devices is not as straightforward as it may seem. Computer use can transform us into either social butterflies or extreme recluses, or a blend of both, depending on our online activities and on our distinction as individuals with distinct personalities and potentials.

Currently, as I revamp this article, I exist in a state of solitude. Writing is essentially a monologue. However, upon publication, the article transitions into a "hybrid" or "dual" state of solitude and connection. Solitude, because I, the writer, am elsewhere (even asleep), and connection, because reading this article is technically a form of interaction between two people. As such, I may be interacting with someone from anywhere in the world while I may be busy doing something else. Virtuality is a state of existence in a non-physical manner, (or a non-pure physical manner).

One undeniable fact remains: physical proximity is no longer a necessary for any kind of human connection and communication. As long as we share virtual spaces, such as chat rooms or online communities, we can interact with others, regardless of our geographical separation.

And I'd like to propose the idea that our loneliness is determined not by lack of physical presence but by lack of depth in said presence.

Computers can therefore be resemble physical spaces without these spaces being physical. If you occupy a space solely by yourself, without any external perception and interaction, you are essentially alone, like a hermit. If you play a single-player game and avoid recording your gameplay for others to consume, you essentially enter a state of electronic hermitage. However, this is not the case when you interact with others in a multi-occupied space, like a virtual chat, which can resembles a public space, especially with the power of virtual reality technology.

The exception arises when you are not engaged in any form of interaction. A lengthy piece of writing or recording can indeed be considered a form of isolation during its production, but not after its publication. And yes, when you read this text, you actively engage with it, therefore interacting with it.

Therefore, even though this article serves as a means of communication, it is still a work that is produced in solitude. Only when it is read does it transition to a state of being consumed by others, which constitutes a form of interaction. This creates a hybrid state, similar to that of books and other non-virtual material that has been produced in solitude.

Virtuality has forever enabled this dissonance-esuqe idea of being alone and together at the same time no matter where you are. And yet, none of this solves the rising epidemic of loneliness in this world, which can simply be solved by either mastering the art of being alone, or fostering deep and meaningful relationships with other human beings.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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