Wednesday Workshop: Invisible Walls

As a society, I feel we have moved beyond putting people inside walls.

We have willingly put ourselves inside of them.

Humans seek the safety of castles and fortress walls, and we look upon these creations as symbols of security and stability. We then place people who break the rules behind a smaller set of walls than the ones which we choose for ourselves. One could look at society, in a general sense, and say the rules of society are where we agree to put the walls, and this is how much space (and where this space is) each of us get.

But the walls are there.

And we seek them out.

Rather than have free and complete expression, we choose the walls of a social media platform. We give up what we can say to be "inside" that space. Look at all the people in here! Isn't it worth it to be "inside" this space with all of the others who value being "in here?" And yet, there are rules on what you can say. There are invisible algorithms controlling how many people see what you say, when they see it, and then you need to pay the lord of the castle for the right to have more people than they 'allow' to hear your words. And don't say anything remotely upsetting or offensive, because into the 'adult dungeon' you shall go.

All of a sudden outside the castle seems like a better place.

For those who still know about the outside.

The walls which surround us we have become so accustomed to they have become invisible to our eyes.

And there are whole generations of people born within these walls. The danger is they know nothing else.

And this is not just social media, we lock in our choice of entertainment, computer systems, office applications, internet access, phone choice, music systems, cloud backups, news sources, and other 'invisible walls' we agree to every day just to 'be a part of the crowd.' The contracts for using these systems are so long and obscure we have no idea of what we are agreeing to when we click 'okay.' We just want in. Damn the consequences.

I have a music collection of DRM-free files that I own and purchased legally, along with a collection of books in PDF format. I am working on a movie collection of the things which I like, and also these are purchased legally because I value rewarding the creators. This is something I own that cannot be taken away, except maybe by natural disaster or the cloud system is wiped out. I can take these with me wherever I go. If I say 'to hell with you Windows and Mac' I can move them over to an Ubuntu laptop and have them work just fine. I am not confined to a castle for my entertainment, and I can walk away from any of these services and still have my freedom.

And yet, I am still guilty of supporting 'lock in' and proprietary services that limit choice. There are times when I can't avoid it, and there are times when I don't have the time to change it - but I am getting better (I hope). I admit to some hypocrisy here, and the 'ideal' me would stand up for these ideals a bit more strongly.

"But," the lords of the castles say, "it is so much harder out there without us. Look at all the benefits we provide! Look at how we enrich your lives! Look at the value proposition."

There is a value in choice.

There is a value in freedom.

There is a value in the ability to be able to walk away.

There is a value to being able to pick up, move, and choose to live within another set of walls, if you so choose.

Or live outside of the walls, as much as you can these days, and be a little more self-reliant - even if it means a little less convenience.

We are moving into an age where the walls that matter are not physical ones, and arguments about outdated, physical walls will seem as silly and antiquated as believing in castles as a measure of military might. Nowadays, castles and their fortress walls are museums and tourist attractions, and the walls are just there for show. Something to put on the postcard that mean nothing in terms of access or defense.

The real walls these days are virtual.

They are electronic.

They are setup by groups with secret algorithms and computer codes to separate us. They are coded to lock in our music and entertainment and information choices to one system only. These walls control our speech, who can hear our words, and how many people each day can be exposed to our ideas. They filter our ideas to people who agree with us, and who are more like us than different. We live in a world of unknown and subconscious bias, by our own choice, and filtered through millions of lines of computer code that electronically segregates us by the content of our ideas. Of course, this is all done with our consent, and also by our own hand by the groups we choose to see and put ourselves in.

We clicked on the EULA, after all, so long and so complicated it could never be fully understood, but we just had to be here...right?

And then I feel the most terrifying walls are the ones we build inside our heads.

I once used a "news app" that let me choose the sources of information my "personalized news" would pull from. Think about that for a moment. I grew up in a time where the ideal of "news" was put up there alongside that old-fashioned idea of impartiality. Now, this source leans left, while that one leans right. I need to pick and choose the news sources that align to my political ideals. I can't even read about a natural disaster without politics being interjected and rubbed in my face.

We setup a system that divides us and paints opinion all over what should be "the facts" we use to make up our minds. What is your flavor of fake news? It is our choice and at the same time there is no choice at all.

And of course, we choose to be in these spaces where everyone's opinions are like our own, and that natural disaster is always the fault of the other side. It gives us an easy out when bad things happen to blame someone else, rather than roll up our sleeves and just solve the damn problem without injecting politics into the entire event. There are times when I feel some would say, "Let the disaster happen, because the 'optics' of a destroyed town would be better for our cause. We could use those images as weapons to further support our highly politicized spaces."

People lived in that unfortunate place, and now their lives have been set adrift on a sea of uncertainty.

We are better than this. I feel we are.

I hope we are.

At times I wonder if it is not already too late. Invisible walls, but yet impenetrable barriers.

I stopped using that news app, because all it did was provide a view of the world through glasses shaded by the colors of my beliefs. And I found those sources of information strangely patronizing and almost repeating a thought-control like repetition of the same idea and ideology, often conforming to my own, and never there was a dissenting opinion to be heard. When you live in a world where there are a million different opinions and ideas that is normal. When you live in a world where all you hear is what you believe, you should take a step back, because there is typically someone out there 'filtering' difficult facts and not telling you something serious that you may need to hear.

Freedom is hearing, and listening to, the difficult things.

Freedom is stepping out of the safe place in which you find comfort.

It is a strange affliction, I feel, an addiction to the ideal of safety, of comfort and being right all the time. A societal opiate where nothing difficult is seen nor has to be dealt with. Where troubling information gets mixed in with unfair attacks, and no one cares. We have to win, right? And if we don't win, destroy at all costs. I feel it puts our minds in a 'fake space' in a way, an alternate reality like Wonderland where the rules are made up on the spot. I don't choose this source of information, so the news it shows me never happened. Only people that agree with me matter. Only ideas conforming to mine have value. Things that don't conform must be attacked.

It is better to lie than to lose. And admitting fault and remorse invites destruction instead of forgiveness and understanding.

It is the danger of invisible walls, I feel.

We can see through them but we can never hear what the other side has to say.