Have you ever blocked someone on Twitter? Or been blocked? It's weird, right? With a couple clicks, you can make an internet person no longer exist. Or become someone who no longer exists in another person's internet.
I once ran into a guy, IRL, who blocked me on Twitter. We were on an escalator together for what felt like an eternity. At some point in the past year or so he's unblocked me, and so now I see the occasional retweet or mention of him... but it's still weird.
Because, like, was he a part of "the conversation" this whole time? Was he setting “the tone”? Were his hot takes the hottest? I have literally no idea, I was blocked. As far as I'm concerned, for the past few years he wasn't part of the fabric of reality. Except for that inexplicable escalator anomaly.
A couple weeks ago Apple added "content blocker" functionality to iOS, which allows developers to make ad-blocking add-ons for Safari. Desktop browsers have had ad-blocker extensions for over a decade. Oh man, remember pop-ups? There once was an internet that had pop-up ads. And then we pop-up blocked those ads into oblivion. And now, would we even know if there are pop-up ads anymore?
The more of your reality which is, in fact, virtual, the more you can apply digital tools to mold that reality.
When we block things, we choose our own reality. I think, in the future, we will choose more and more of our reality. It only makes sense: the more of your reality which is, in fact, virtual, the more you can apply digital tools to mold that reality.
For instance, there's a sci-fi novel called Rainbows End in which the characters can see the world through the augmented reality of their choosing. They choose to see the world like a H. P. Lovecraft novel, or M. C. Escher drawing, in collaboration with other like-minded fans. These consensual realities are called "belief circles" in the novel. That's a great name.
In our real, non-fictional, non-consensual, actually-really-happening (AFAIK) reality, a new "belief circle" is about to emerge. It's called "Pokémon GO" and it applies a thin virtual Pokéverse veneer on top of our geography. A mobile app for iPhone and Android, plus a goofy bracelet, is the key to playing out a fantasy once constrained to a Game Boy. Soon, nearly every nerd you know will be hunting virtual pocket monsters in your real neighborhood. You can join them in their reality, or never see it at all. It's not real, really.
Of course, a full-on virtual reality, like the Matrix, is the "reality" most suited to tampering. The Oculus Rift VR headset might be as close as we get this decade. During a recent keynote, an Oculus executive described a virtual sports arena where you can watch eSports with thousands of other fans. But you can only interact with your "social graph" (Oculus is a Facebook company). Imagine that. You're in "public," but everyone not on your buddy list is literally a faceless mass. The pleasure of a shared experience in a giant crowd, with none of the risk of interacting with strangers.
That's weird, isn't it?
There are obvious reasons we shape our own reality. We put up walls and fences and say who is allowed inside those walls, and who isn't. That's healthy and sane. We need safety from strangers and enemies, we need comfort and privacy. But the barriers we can put up in our virtual worlds are something stronger, something different. When reality is defined by a CPU, a GPU, and a few sticks of RAM, whoever owns the silicon is (theoretically) god of that reality.
"A person I dislike can become a person who doesn’t exist."
We already select our own reality in a myriad of ways. We often find like-minded people to share ideas with, like-minded pundits to affirm those ideas, and even like-minded philosophers or scientists to “prove” those ideas. And those are all completely natural human tendencies. All I’m saying is that in a virtual world, our tools to shape our reality become sharper. An idea I disagree with can become an idea I never encounter; a person I dislike can become a person who doesn’t exist.
When you speak into the void and create a digital universe of your own choosing... will you block me on Twitter?