A window shows you a world beyond you.
A mirror shows you…you.
The world turns on windows and mirrors.
What you view has much to do with what you know and feel and are – and what you can become.
And the medium that provides the view has much to do with what is seen.
Windows and mirrors are media.
Depending on the composition or the condition of the media, you get interesting variations on their properties. For example, a window can act as a mirror if the angle of the lighting is right.
But while windows can be mirrors, mirrors usually remain…mirrors – once they become mirrors, it’s hard to get them to show you worlds beyond yourself.
There are certain media which can be both windows and mirrors. That’s what’s so peculiar about Web media.
Google is a medium. It’s a window. It displays views of the world beyond yourself. But as you use Google more and more, it returns views of the world based on your search history. The window of Google slowly turns, query by query, into a peculiar mirror. In a way, the longer you Google the world, you begin to Google yourself.
Twitter is a window. It’s also a mirror. Your tweet is a window to someone else…then she retweets it and you see your tweet reflected on your screen.
Facebook is a window. It’s also a mirror.
Youtube is a window. It’s also a mirror.
Yes, the more you use social media, you grow more lenses through which to view the world. What’s more interesting: you get to view the lenses of other people, and to view the world through those lenses.
It’s all very cool and can be very useful. Mind-expanding really.
But these media – like actual windows – can easily turn into mirrors.
The real-time stream of tweets and Facebook updates conveys billions of tiny window-bits.
If you stand by the running flow of water, you catch glimpses of entire worlds beyond yourself.
The stream gleams and glitters like no other.
If all you do, however, is to lean over the surface of the stream, those windows will – almost imperceptibly – flip into mirrors.
Yes, this is like the story of Narcissus and Echo. (“Echo Chamber” has more meaning to you now, doesn’t it?)
Whether the Web is a good or bad thing for us depends on how much it carries us closer to a new kind of narcissism:
Only the Web could help to create a beast like that: Inadvertent Narcissism.
I know you don’t mean to be a narcissist. Neither do I.
But given enough tug and pull, if we don’t pay attention to the world outside us and confuse the media for the message, that’s what we’ll all become. A Web of inadvertent narcissists.
When that happens, we will have become a Sibling Society.
A sibling society is not capable of democracy nor leadership nor peace. For there is no vertical structure of life experience – it’s all horizontal and two-dimensional. A hall of mirrors.
It’s the kind of society where the few with the ambition to rise above the cacophonous horizon leap to acquire all of the rights of adults with none of the responsibilities.
It’s a society where children grow up to be children. It sounds like fun. Except for one thing: when children raise children, child abuse is inevitable.
It only ends in a war of all against all. Sibling rivalry.
Treat these windows with great care. We are gifted with them. Open them up. Use them. Share them. Look through them.
Just know: the longer you use these windows, and the less you peer through them, you will – without much notice – be looking at them.
The fundamental challenge of this century isn’t so much the upending disturbances of the Web, nor geopolitical battles, nor global economic collapse, nor famine.
No, the most difficult challenge of our time will be to become who we are without becoming each other.