Re-enchantment and Rationalization in Internet

Much as I appreciate and support the pragmatic approach of “digital-era governance” (DEG), I still find something still missing there about the Internet.  I have found it lately.  It is the re-enchantment part of the Internet, that is to say, the potential to exert magical influence over the people, especially emotionally.

Indeed, internet techonologies can be instrumental, rationalised, and thus blasé.  However, it can also be spontaneous, emotional and imaginative.  It is exactly the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” part of the internet I want to explore here.

It is exactly two very emotionally powerful Internet events that drive me to write this essay.  One is the viral video “Where the Hell is Matt?” and another is the recent speech “Always on the side of the egg” (Chinese translation here) by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (村上春樹).

First of all, the re-enchantment in Internet could be lies or fictions.  Murakami has pointed out truth could be very elusive, and it is exactly why “making up good lies” is so important for us to discern “where the truth-lies within us”:

In most cases, it is virtually impossible to grasp a truth in its original form and depict it accurately. This is why we try to grab its tail by luring the truth from its hiding place, transferring it to a fictional location, and replacing it with a fictional form. In order to accomplish this, however, we first have to clarify where the truth-lies within us, within ourselves. This is an important qualification for making up good lies.

I guess anyone in the beginning of a relationship will tell you the similar thing ;-)  The similar thing could also be applied to religious belief or the “Pied Piper of Hamelin“.  They all could be regarded as lies and fictions that are emotionally powerful and persuasive.  They may not stand up to the scrutiny of rationality and seriousness.  But somehow they have the quality to enchant people.

Now, should we blame people for being so gullible and not rational enough?  Sometimes we should, but sometimes we should not.  For the former we have the improved rationality of “digital-era governance” (DEG), which is outside the discussion of this short essay.  For the latter we have this strange viral video “Where the Hell is Matt?”, which shows the enchantment potentials of online activities.

“Matt”, known as Dancing Matt, features in almost every scene of the video showing him dancing in major landmarks and street scenes around the world.  In the video, his dancing skill is consistently limited, but his passion is not bounded by geography.  Sometimes he dances alone, but increasingly some dog, some go-go-bar girl, and later flocks of people come to dance with him, mostly in public space.

Dancing has been professionalized, privatized, commercialized in our lives for so long.  The ancient dance of communities seem to be lost.  Thus, the spontaneity of the people joining in seems enchanting, as perhaps inherited from our ancestors’ dancing around the fire.  Of course such spontaneous dancing has been also commercialized for commercials.  Still somehow people still want to be enchanted.  (The similar thing could be said about love.)

Somehow, the Dancing Matt video has enchanted so many of the people online.  With my literary analytic skills, I can argue that it is because of the background music, the simple universal joy from so many places of the world, the globalized ideal (cosmopolitanism) that humanity can transcend all kinds of differences, and all these little tricks that makes people tick.  They could be read as powerfully manipulative.

That is why it is hailed as “a near-perfect piece of Internet art“.  It is also a hoax.

People then have two choices in front of them.  Either they have to admitted that they are fooled and deceived in believing such kind of things can actually happen.  Thus they become disillusioned, disenchanted and blasé.  Or they can deconstruct the fake part and claim that “they knew it” in the beginning.

Any other way to see this piece of hoax?

It might be a good idea to understand how such a form of trickery, and stop to become a sucker again.  Or better yet, it might be executable idea to practice it to make other people a bunch of suckers.

That’s all?  I want to push it a bit further, with the below quote by the video maker:

The world is far more dangerous, cruel and unfriendly for something like that to happen.  (But) people bought it.

My question will be, to what extent, Internet is far less dangerous, cruel and unfriendly for something like to happen?  To what extent, people want to buy it so desperately?  To what extent, people are willing to take the risk of being deceived (and thus hurt) to believe again?  To what extent, people want to believe?

Is it exactly this kind of assumed “good faith” that allures so many people into strangers in some chat room, on some talk page of a Wikipedia entry?  Is it exactly people’s hidden desire to meet nice strangers that initiates many unexpected stories online that never happen offline?  Is it the imagination that people want to find a place that is less dangerous, cruel and unfriendly?  Is it why people may have sympathy for the eggs when they are destined to be broke against the wall?

As the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami will probably tell you in the speech, it is not about the rationality that may stop people from lying or becoming the victims of deception, but rather the empathy in siding “on the side the egg” against the solid hard wall of the “system”, even when knowing that the fragile belief in humanity may be easily destroyed by the system we create.

Internet can host many activities of deception.  Of course, we may need improved rationality such as “digital-era governance” (DEG) to stop lying politicians, financial criminals, untrustworthy sellers, manipulative ex-boyfriends, etc to deceive us.   At the same time, we also need desperately some kind of irrational belief, sometimes siding “on the side the egg“, sometimes simply just dancing after watching the video “Where the Hell is Matt?”  It is exactly why the video maker asks the audience to dance with him in a speech.  It is why the audience, though understanding the fact that the video is a hoax, chooses to dance along.  It is the Internet’s potential to change.  It is our common desire to believe (or believe again if one is blasé of the reality out there).

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One thought on “Re-enchantment and Rationalization in Internet

  1. Han-Teng,

    Great points, but you’re going to need to find a different example of deception. The Dancing Matt videos were very much real. The speech you link to is a piece of satire that Matt threw together because he was sick of being accused of being a fake. If you watch again through to the end, you’ll see how ridiculous he gets.

    Or perhaps you don’t need another example, perhaps the hoax speech being a hoax could apply?

    Michael