Hiding in the Digital World

There is a phenomenon in Japan that has been growing increasingly prevalent called hikikomori, which translates roughly to “to withdraw inwards.” Hikikomori is not simply introversion, it is a complete social isolation which makes someone a hermit in their own homes. These people stay locked away in their rooms, rejecting any kind of connection to the outside world other than online interactions. Hikikomori is most common in young males, unsurprisingly, and leaves many people mentally and emotionally crippled. These people usually rely on family to support them as they spend their lives in the digital world.

While these are extreme cases, there are more people living this way than one may think. For most of us, staying inside on the computer 24/7 sounds unthinkable, but the constantly online lifestyle brought to us via smartphones is changing our perceptions of the world in a similar, albeit less extreme way.

Don’t worry I’m not here to ramble about kids today and their smartphones, I’m addicted to mine just as much as the next person. There is, however, an important balance that needs to be maintained between digital space and the real physical world. 100 years ago there were no distractions that were engrossing enough to cause people to neglect their physical environments the way we do now. Creative people used real paint and real canvases, leaving a one of a kind and long lasting piece of art. The public spaces were actual places that needed to be built, decorated, and maintained.

Creative people used “real” materials and decorated the world in a way that took up physical space. This is still done, of course, but increasingly artists are spending their time and effort on work that is based in cyberspace. I love the internet, and this blog is an example of spending creative energy on an intangible medium. I also enjoy using Logic Pro to make music on the computer much more efficiently and with a lot more tools than were available to artists of the past. I do, however feel it is my duty to spend at least an equal amount of time and effort focusing on actual solid pieces of work that can be enjoyed in person and not through a screen.

I feel the need to do this because the internet is an abstract place that could all be potentially erased in some massive shut down of the power grid. What a shame it would be for all of the world’s most creative minds to focus only on digital work, only for it all to be destroyed in the blink of an eye. Similarly, the collection of human knowledge should be preserved as physical books to avoid the risk of losing it all like a modern day Library of Alexandria.

No matter how compelling the online world may be, engaging with the material world is essential for being a well rounded human being. Without reverence for our physical environment, we march collectively towards a future where the only beauty to be found in our human habitats is only accessible through a screen.

Great works of art/architecture don’t just appear out of nowhere, someone has to manipulate raw materials with their own two hands to create them. When all our attention is designated to decorating the internet and throwing our productive energy into the online abyss we are all left with a stagnant and uninspiring landscape all around us. This leads people to retreat further into our screens, because the world around us has become so dull and uninspired. It’s easy to stop looking at our phones when we’re in a beautiful place, but try fighting that urge to scroll when you’re stuck in a bland suburban wasteland.

This vicious cycle leads to an unhealthy dependence on technology to supply all novelty in our lives. When people no longer expect to find any kind of hidden treasures within an urban landscape, they will stop looking for them. Once a society has stopped looking for inspiration in the physical world, artists will become even more focused on digital space because that’s where all the attention is.

The internet is amazing and I’m not suggesting we should deprive ourselves of the endless gifts it has to offer. I just think a culture needs to keep one foot in the real world to avoid losing connection to the Earth. I’d hate to live in a world where the only place to find any works of human creativity is on your phone, and yes I’m aware that I probably sound like a boomer.

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