The Problem with Mirrors

We are adrift within the reflections of our best selves.

When I discovered the internet, it was young. I was young. The world I inhabited felt larger as I processed the experience of dialing a long-distance number and listening to the modem handshake with the bbs on the other end of the line. There were a multitude of experiences available with a few keystrokes – countless kbs of textfiles to download and peruse – and an economy that encouraged uploads of original materials.

The internet wasn’t the bbs I dialed, it was us, downloading from one space and uploading to another, generating pockets of pooled and collective recorded thoughts, experiences, techniques. To me, it appeared to be a kind of life.

Years earlier I’d read about A-life, an early simulator of artificial life, and the still images of that software formed the backbone of how I visualized the internet as it grew. The visual in my mind’s eye is one of fractal molded lattice, steadily covering all of the physical with a new layer of data, something that mimics and informs the physical.

Certainly, that is how I visualized it all those years ago. Since then, that mental image has evolved. I see the world now as a series of layers – the real is as real in the digital as the physical – there is no reason to distinguish. The ephemeral is real, no matter how fleeting its presence might be – all that exists must, in some sense, be real;. Real life is augmentation and extension of self through many layers of cultural expression and currents of cultural thought. The self is a negotiated stillness within these layers and currents. The interconnected digital space requires us to bridge the air-gaps. The network is self-generating, but only because we are an integral part of the network, and we are self-generating. The network is our purpose, as a species.

We exist to bring the network of our interactions into increasingly obvious and formalized autonomies.

Or, rather—a function of our lives is the concretization of our exertions over time within social and physical spaces, and those exertions are in concert with others both within and around our networks of interpersonal interactions in public and private spaces.

The mirror shows us not as we are, but as we believe we are, and in doing so it deprives us of our authentic self in the moment when we are most vulnerable—mirrors prompt suicidal thoughts and are prepared to shatter, make deep slashes across flesh and face. They are demon gates, voids that deepen in darkness and candlelight. Mirrors are to be shunned, these black mirrors scrying in our pockets evermore so.

But that is the problem with mirrors – we long to be what we believe we are, and these mirrors all promise this as-yet-unobtainable success. And so we stare at our back-lit mirror screens, pursuing the reflection of our imagined, problematicized selves.