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We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

from To a Skylark by Shelley

“What’s on your mind?”, the FB status update box asks me. Before I can get away with posting another triviality, I am hopelessly mired in a thought spiral. How did I end up staring at a blue-and-white screen with a question like this?

We are a social species. We once hunted in groups. It was an important survival instinct – this need to be a part of a group. Those that did not have the instinct, perhaps kept alone and ended up as lion feed. The genes for more social interaction survived. Being in groups led to a need to communicate, which may have led to language, and we could no longer not talk. Farming happened; no more did we have to head out to gang up on unsuspecting animals. We had more time to chit-chat. And scribble.

We were thinking then, just as we are now. We wanted others to know what we were thinking. Since others cared about what we were thinking, if we cared about what they were thinking, we had to ask others about their thoughts. Now, as most people will acknowledge, it is hard to think great thoughts all the time. We have our moments of sporadic genius and we have our moments of, shall we say, mental flaccidity, and that’s completely normal in case you had your doubts. Yet responding to talk with silence makes it somewhat suspect, even embarrassing; akin to refusing to shake an outstretched hand. You cannot not respond even when you cannot think; your social genes won’t let you. Since our mental up-times and down-times are not synced up perfectly, we have to come up with something – the weather, the neighbor’s dog, the most recent meal, nasal hair – anything to fill in the void, vocalized observations that completely bypass the grey matter between your ears.

Despite these social compulsions, there was hope. You could on occasions avoid interaction; make up a head-ache, or better still, a cold, where your refusal to show-up could be justified by a desire to avoid spreading the virus, earning social brownie points in the process. (If you have friends that report sick every time you call them, that’s a sign that you need to make new ones, or change yourself whichever is easier). Social equilibrium was possible.

Until FB-ing, blogging, tweeting, and other forms of me-meing came about. By the time one grasped what was happening, the levees had collapsed, and prosaic waters of daily ordinariness filled up our feed-list from every which way.There was no escape. We had to be in the loop; we were driven by the social need of our fore-bearers, coded up in our genes. Unless you abandoned the network, suffocated your desire to keep up with others, and yanked yourself free from those virtual bonds that attach you to your online friend list. It was a tough choice; some made it, and survived to tell the tale. But no one was there to listen, for now you had no followers. Most calls go to voice mail anyway. Doors remained unanswered, for your friends are out on vacation or at the local restaurant enjoying delicious Eritrean fare, or playing Farmville – if only there were a news feed to inform you, even a tweet. That there are multiple mediums of communication is a farce. There is only the online one, and it has spell-check.

‘What’s on your mind?’, asks the FB status update box. More often than not I find myself logged in to FB precisely when there is nothing on my mind. Except today. Or maybe even today.

He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit …Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.

Julian Assange, profiled in the New Yorker by Raffi Khatchadourian back in June 2010.

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