My earlier description of the different ways in which I experienced reality makes me uncomfortable. It feels that by describing it I allow myself to be seen as one of the crazies. I feel like a conspiracy theorist or a spiritual sectarian when describing my historic relation with reality.
Maybe the idea that routines and recognizable objects are the cornerstones of our identity is a reason why I feel awkward acknowledging that during a period of in my life I have stepped outside of this shared reality. Describing another mode of perceiving feels like leaving the safe haven of consensus and sailing on psychotic waves, encountering mythical monsters. I show myself as different, with a different identity. Yet, I’ll try to shake this uneasiness off and accept my history as an example of layeredness.
We are stuck at this point in the blog with two different options to react to the online environment. We can try to reduce it to relatable phenomena or we can accept it as being fundamentally unlike what we know and embrace the otherness of it. Translated to online communication this means that we either rejoice in contact with fellow humans that feels good, partially as a result of the fact that we experience it in the alien online realm. Or we try to escape online from the labeling of others that we normally do.
It is not easy to imagine the second option. How can we be more granular in our contact with others and refrain from understanding their presence in relatable terms? How can we stop falling back to our routines in our communication with others but rather allow ourselves to be changed because of it? How can we treat the online sphere as an ethical challenge in which we take responsibility for others and, through them, for ourselves?
Philip K. Dick has tried to imagine this. In his text Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (pdf) Dick describes a religion called Mercerism. As a central part of the religion humans enter a virtual space by means of an empathy box. Once in that virtual space, they feel the hardships of a lonely man, Wilbur Mercer, who is climbing up a hill while being hit by stones. The empathy box mergers the experience of the lonely man with the person using the device, and with all other individuals using it: “He found himself … as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky – not Earth’s sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available. He had crossed over in the usual perplexing fashion; physical merging – accompanied by mental and spiritual identification – with Wilbur Mercer had reoccurred. As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences.”