It's official: we've all gone to hell.
We're all aware that we're about to reach a crucial date, 2012. Pessimists have predicted for centuries that this year will be the end of days. Even US Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, said to be obsessed with civilisation-ending threats, is looking worried. What even the most pessimistic might not realise is that the Apocalypse has already passed. It came and went, oh, a decade or two ago.
You can read all about it in the biblical Book of Revelations, in a certain doom-like passage (20:11-13). "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and Sky fell in his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books."
That's right: the internet. See the resemblance? It sure is spooky. There's no earth or sky (i.e. it's a virtual space). And books were opened, and another book opened (i.e. the opening of multiple web pages). And then the dead (that's us) were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (i.e. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, whatever). It's all recorded. It's all there. All has been revealed, in a twisted version of Santa's list. And it won't go away.
Once upon a time, there was once upon a time. We lived linear lives – yesterday, today, tomorrow; past, present, future. There was a certain comforting reassurance in that, especially if something bad happened. We'd be able to put things behind us, or look ahead. Tomorrow, as Scarlet O'Hara declared, is another day.
Not anymore. There's no time on the internet. Your successes and failures, secrets and lies, are all up there, ad infinitum, gathering dross, awaiting judgement. Most people have had an experience of gasping with delight at something online about themselves - whether a photo, a comment, a tweet - and equally, gasping in horror. One of my university colleagues was appalled to find her every utterance at meetings minuted in minute detail; another may be stuck in cyberspace forever with a bad haircut. A novelist I know agonizes over her Amazon ratings. Then there's the possibly Apocryphal story of a journalist whose first experience of googling herself was only to see a cartoon version of her 'virtually' performing a sexual act with a US President. And that's without counting Wikileaks.
I had my own experience when co-authoring a book. Amidst solid sales and good publicity, a poor online review caused much gnashing of teeth. As an academic who regularly goes through the brutal anonymous peer review process, I'm used to critique. What I'm not used to is it being on permanent public record.
Dealing with criticism used to be a matter of picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and getting over it. In general, we hoped, time would heal our wounds; eventually finito, gone. Not on the internet. Not now we've entered the web of revelations, which leaves a sticky trail. Once online, always online. We have to wonder - is this what was meant by eternal damnation?
How can we get over things if they're always there? How can we escape?
It's ironic that at the same time we've created the internet we're also seeing a spiritual shift towards embracing the moment. Thanks to Oprah and Eckhart Tolle we're encouraged, Zen like, to live in the now, to get over our pasts, to 'carpe diem', because today is all we really have.
But living in the moment isn't all it's cracked up to be. Some of us, somewhat petulantly, might not like eternity. Myths and legends tell us of gods who were tired of immortality. Online, we can understand why.
The now, of course, isn't supposed to look like the WWW. Yet when many of us struggle to enter the eternal, it's starting to. Our mental screens are full of multiple images, quick hits, memory downloads, pop ups, tangential searches, drop down menus, cookies. The internet is a mind manifestation, its cyber clutter an extension of the way we store up our emotional and mental garbage, and how we never remember to take it out. The same old stuff keeps coming back, again and again.