Piercing the Veil of Illusion

January 5, 2009 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: Internet, philosophy, tech.

Mystics call it “piercing the veil of illusion”. Alcoholics may have a “moment of clarity”. Whatever popular tag it may have earned, “seeing things as they really are” isn’t just the exclusive remit of esoterics, washed-up drunks or the writers of the chief concept of “The Matrix”. Truth, facts and reallity underpin virtually everything. Even when you can’t see the truth, it’s still there; you just have to know how to get to it.

Take, for instance, the social networking phenomenon that has exploded on the Internet over the last few years. The serial “marketers” have jumped aboard facebook and myspace and are intent on gathering vast numbers of “friends”. Whilst connecting with unknown and random people is a hugely enjoyable benefit of the Internet, it’s a shame that there is such a wave of cynicism with people becoming regarded more as sales & traffic opportunities than they are friends & acquaintances. Social networking is in danger of simply becoming the Web 2.0 method of gathering more ears to force a message into. The “extreme networkers” don’t simply update their status with fun & interesting things going on in their lives because their messages are often just pure propaganda – come to my website, buy my product, turn to my religion, convert to my politics.

In light of the topic here, of piercing the veil of illusion, it’s not hard to spot this sort of behaviour; OK, so some people are into politics (me), some can be religious (not me, but I’ll talk about it) and others may genuinely think you might be interested in their website or their wares (again, that’s me, but I always like to emphasise the caveat *might* be interested and err on the side of the precautionary principle). The obvious problem is when the message is repeated over & over again, ad verbatim. Why would a friend continuously talk god to an agnostic? Why would they repeatedly try to demonise moderate politicians? You didn’t visit their blog or join their forum on the first or the fifth request, so why should you do so at their fiftieth? Rather than attract, these attempts can often backfire and actually repel people.

Twitter is another excellent web application that has also seen huge attempts at exploitation. In the various¬† profiles I’ve got, both personal and business, I’ve seen “extreme networkers” follow me and get the favour returned, only to drop me once they’ve got me as yet another follower. Twitwhores. I thought I was clever by making that up, but, as with so many things web, somebody beat me to it.

Whilst the vast majority of tweets I subscribe to are always interesting & entertaining, and very often educational, some of the URLs I’ve followed have been to some very spammy websites. One site by a “writer” consists of some of the most poorly-written articles I’ve come across. Another acquaintance claims to be writing two-dozen articles by lunchtime… oh really?!¬† How about the English writer who produces an overwhelming amount of American spellings?

The common thread here is that the deluge in content is not original; a quick scan of copyscape often highlights that today’s posted feature was either yet another regurgitation of someone else’s article or a poor Frankenstein, composed of badly-stitched remnants of other cut & paste sources. Many times the blatant plagiarism fails to provide any reference to the source material.

It’s not just facebook and Twitter either. Digg has been invaded by networks of digg power users that promote poor quality posts and pure banality. It’s not democracy, it’s not reallity, it’s just mob rule and a poor dumb mob at that. It destroys the fundamental founding principles behind honest & sincere intentions. I sometimes wonder how many people who use the Freecycle network are actually taking freely-given items to be re-used and selling them on eBay?

“Seeing things as they really are” is probably a long-winded way of merely saying skepticism, but that’s the way the web is these days. Dodgy URLs in spam emails, phishing, pop-ups, pop-unders, generic drugs, 419 scams, guaranteed positions in Google SERPs etc… the list could go on. I see “thanks for the great advice” in comments after articles that are cut from somewhere else and pasted in a slick-looking blog. I know it’s bullshit but there are people out there that don’t, and I wish there was a way to stimulate more originality on the Internet, to allow every single person to see things as they really are and pierce that veil of illusion…

Google algorithms can filter out spam SERPs, we hope, and with social networking we *can* choose our friends. Thank heaven for the “less about bigmouth” option on facebook status updates. Maybe original writers should leverage social networks to promote their own messages of integrity and how to spot spam and duplicate content…

…we could be here for a while before that happens.

In the meantime… Question everything!

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