Is Technology Causing Us To Retreat From The Truth?


Advertising hoardings in Piccadilly Circus, which will soon ‘shape-shift’, depending on who is viewing them. The appearance of a famous landmark will be different according to who you are.

“Loads of the data our ocular nerves are getting hold of these days comes via various screens which are themselves imperfectly connected to, and flawed reflections of, the things that are really happening. So I totally accept that no one actually knows anything and, for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as objective truth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth searching for… For millennia it’s been a sort of given that humans are always, in various ways, trying to work out what’s up….

Then last week I suddenly felt like we might be giving up the struggle. The new electric hoarding at Piccadilly Circus is going to have targeted advertising. There are hidden cameras within it that can apparently identify the age of passers-by or what make of car they’re driving and will change the sign’s marketing messages accordingly. This has been happening online for some time, but now it’s moving off the computer screen on to a tennis court-sized expanse of iconic central London wall. The wall will also offer localised wifi with which people will be encouraged to interact so their experience of that part of town can be further personalised.
Essentially, then, the appearance of a famous landmark will be different according to who you are. There will be no “true” version. The writing on the wall will be different for you than it is for someone else. Reality will be warped by subjectivity before it even hits the optic nerve….

But at least we’re all looking at the same world. For now. More or less. We can agree on the theoretical existence somewhere of a definitive truth. Are we still up for seeking that truth or are we happy to compound our own subjectivity by being ever more protected from views we oppose and only exposed to advertising designed exclusively for our particular tribe? It’s ironic that the advent of a technology facilitating unprecedented communication and understanding of the paradoxes and complexity of global events, and of billions of people’s reactions to them, is causing us to retreat from such knowledge.”

– from ‘The trouble with getting lost in your own world’, David Mitchell, The Guardian 22 Oct 2017

Further in this vein: facial expression in photos can now be manipulated.

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