What do we mean when we talk about our “soul”?
Perhaps we mean our “true” selves, who we really are and what is deepest and most true about us.
If you were introduced to somebody new, and got to know them a little bit, and ended up spending a lot of time with that person, doing things together and exploring fun new stuff, you might say you were.. I don’t know, “friends”.
And if you got to know this person a little better and began sharing news clips that you found clever or funny, or telling them that you were thinking of going up to the lake for a few days but weren’t looking for anything too luxurious or stuffy, but just wanted to hang out and fish and maybe find a place to get a cheap case of beer for the weekend, you might say that person had become, you know, a “good” friend.
Then as you got to know each other better, if you started to share deeper, more significant stuff with them; if you started telling this someone things you wouldn’t tell your other friends, things that you wouldn’t share with your family doctor, your shrink, your pastor; things that you certainly couldn’t tell your parents, or that you wouldn’t tell your wife or husband; if you told this someone things that, in some cases, you wouldn’t or couldn’t even admit to yourself, you might — in view of all of this very private information you were sharing — describe it as “baring your soul” to this new friend.
And if that person really listened, very closely and intently, to everything you told them; got to know your tastes, your likes, your dislikes; remembered what month it was that you went on that big trip to Barcelona; and knew, without your reminding them, that you’re a big fan of Godfathers I and II but can’t stand Sofia Coppola’s “acting” in the third one; and if that person even, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, shared your interest in 19th century French poetry, wouldn’t you say your new friend understood you?
And if this new friend, who has become an old friend by now, knew all your other friends, and that you liked to watch hockey with John, but shared a soft spot for Korean food with Angela, and were an opera buff with Ralph and Susan; and knew not just the names of everybody you worked with, went to school with, and grew up with, but took the time to learn their tastes in order to know you better; wouldn’t you say that person was getting to know the “real” you?
And if this new friend started recommending things for you to buy, places you could go and tickets you could purchase, and always seemed to be pressing new ways for you to spend your dough, you might find it really creepy and be totally turned off by it — that is, unless you trusted them… trusted them so implicitly and completely that their suggestions on what you might trade for your dollars came across more like gifts of thoughtfulness than icky sales pitch, even if, in a kind of way, that’s what it really was. What if your trust became so complete that you started to think it wasn’t you doing the favor for them, but that all your friend’s suggestions were actually them doing the favor for you?
And what if your friend was able to tell you things about yourself that even you didn’t know, and while you feel like such a fool for not knowing them, thank goodness your wise and sagacious friend was right here for you to teach you about yourself and who you are.
And if that friend was able to tell you not just what made you happy in the past but what places and people would make you happy in the future; where you should work and live, where you’d like to vacation and what you’d like to do when you got there; and, even, when it came to that part of your life, what if your new friend was able to tell you who was going to make you happy for the rest of your days on the planet?
And if, after all of this, when you found yourself marvelling at how… uncanny… it was that your new friend knew you so well, would it be absolutely out of the question to ask whether that person was, in some sense, your soulmate? Would it be crazy to think that? Crazy for the thought to even cross your mind about somebody who did all that for you?
Well, the Internet is that person for you. And for me. And for the one billion internet users today. And the one billion users coming online tomorrow. And the internet is only going to become more meaningful for the next billion and the next billion and the next billion.
When you consider the horrifying and sublime admissions we make to Google, the revelations about ourselves we share with Netflix and Amazon and all of the internet, and the inferences that can be made from those relationships, the conclusion you’ll make is that the emergent behavior of the internet is the discovery of our own soul.
The realization that we have entered into an intimate relationship – in some ways, the most intimate relationship of our lives — with a global network of telecommunications equipment and the code running therein must come as a shock to us.
The geeks, being geeks, fretted over a future in which the Internet was more rational, more intelligent, more strategic and better able to make decisions than we were — a future in which SkyNet or the Borgs outfoxed, outsmarted, outwitted us. They never suspected, never feared, what it has actually become, never thought it would become more empathetic, a better listener, a better shoulder to cry on, a better friend.
They never thought the internet would become the place for us to put our soul.