The Disconnect | Róisín Kiberd

Summary of: The Disconnect: A Personal Journey Through the Internet
By: Róisín Kiberd

Introduction

In the book ‘The Disconnect: A Personal Journey Through the Internet,’ Róisín Kiberd delves into the internet’s journey from a heralded techno-utopian society to a dystopian realm dominated by surveillance capitalism, filter bubbles, and fake news proliferated by platforms such as Facebook. Through her own experience of addiction and mental breakdown, Kiberd explores the impact of online life on individuals’ mental hygiene, emotional state, and search for identity. Alongside, she uncovers the relentless drive towards productivity and how this machine-like mindset has caused lifestyles to revolve around enhancing bodily performance and extreme health practices, reflecting society’s increasingly complicated relationship with technology.

From Techno-Utopia to Dystopia

The internet was once considered a place of self-reinvention and diversity, but it has evolved into a dystopia of surveillance capitalism, filter bubbles, and fake news. Instead of fulfilling its techno-utopian promise, Facebook and other social media platforms have established a new normal in which being watched by a corporation and peers is aspirational. Every day, 4.3 billion people spend more than six hours online, sharing idealized versions of themselves. Platform algorithms collect and analyze every click, like, and post, turning data into profit. The internet has become a dystopia, far from the vision of its early developers and users.

The Rise of Personal Branding on Social Media

In 1996, Tom Peters discussed the idea of people advertising themselves and competing as companies do. Social media embraced this, but instead of encouraging creativity, it demands fixed identities. Facebook requires users to go by their real names and discourages fake ones. This concept has led to the rise of personal branding – presenting an idealized version of oneself. Society expects this on social media, and users are motivated to share their lives compulsively to compete for likes and up-votes. As a result, the platform’s algorithms collaborate with us to create a digital double, a composite of every online action and interaction. This double, containing behavioral data, is what online platforms monetize. Facebook has foregrounded the personal brand, and users are expected to present a public-facing self, just as a business promotes its products or brands. As we share more on social media, it also expands its knowledge of us, including our hopes, fears, uncertainties, and the secrets we keep.

Facebook’s Distorted Community

The book exposes Facebook’s mission statement to promote community and connection while hiding under the guise of surveillance capitalism. By utilizing a filtering algorithm, Facebook builds a filter bubble that tailors each user’s online experience to personal preferences and preconceptions. This phenomenon of fake news leads to political extremism and troll farms that strive to enhance user engagement. Roisin Kiberd divulges her experience with the internet, where it led to her emotional breakdown and suicide attempt. She claims that the internet may not be the root cause of emotional issues, but it can intertwine with mental hygiene. For some, the internet has turned them to become “emotional cyborgs” who rely on the online realm to extend their emotional states, leading to a sense of distraction, loneliness, and existential crisis.

The Rise of Machine-Like Consciousness

The internet age ushered in new perceptions of the human body as mere machinery, leading to a trend of modified performance. This trend was embodied in energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster Unleaded, marketed as fuel for the machine-like body. The tech world adopted extreme biohacking practices to optimize physical attributes, with some individuals going as far as replacing conventional food with a powdered nutritional drink named Soylent. Other notable biohacks include fasting, ice baths, and megadoses of vitamins. These practices aimed to engineer improvements in the body’s power and stamina, reducing wastage of productive time.

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