[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a dark warehouse, sitting at computers. They have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see the social media feeds before them.
[Glaucon] I see.
[Socrates] And do you see, I said, the stories passing by the news feed. Some of them are talking, some commenting, others liking, friending and unfriending, others silent.
[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows on these Facebook walls, or the shadows of one another, which the Facebook algorithms curate for us. With each comment, like, or interaction Facebook creates a shadow world that it casts specifically for us.
[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were allowed to create their own world and never allowed to move their heads?
[Socrates] And of the stories and lives being presented, they would only see the shadows, the imitations, and fanciful farce of themselves and others?
[Glaucon] Yes, he said.
[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
[Glaucon] Very true.
[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, that as they had defriended dissenting opinions, and repeatedly liked only the same voices, the echo would grow and become one with their own voice?
[Glaucon] No question, he replied.
[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images carefully curated for them.
[Glaucon] That is certain.
[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look outside, he will suffer sharp pains; the opposing opinions will distress him. The realities of his former state were mere shadows. Now conceive someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
[Glaucon] Far truer.
[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the world, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take in the objects of vision that comforted his perspective and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
[Glaucon] True, he will.
[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged into the presence of people who do not agree with him, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the other people as people, will he not be dazzled. Will he be able to see that the other person is more than one status update that triggered him?
[Glaucon] Not all in a moment, he said.
[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the non-digital world. First he will see the shadows of those similar, next the reflections of other men, and then he will begin to hear stories for themselves.
[Socrates] Last off he will be able to see the world, and not mere reflections of himself or others. He will see people as people and not as curated shadows.
[Socrates] If the prisoners were in the habit of conferring “likes” among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark jovially or cynically in the comments; and who were therefore best able to attract the admiration of the other prisoners, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?
[Glaucon] Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
[Socrates] Imagine once more, I said, such a one coming suddenly out of the world to be replaced in his old fabricated digital situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
[Glaucon] To be sure, he said.
[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the news feed shadows with the other prisoners who had never moved away from their computers, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become re-accustomed to the screens and banal chatter, would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that outside he went and back he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of departing; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him outside, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
[Glaucon] No question, he said.
In many ways, we have fallen into a divided, tribal world. Wonderfully powerful tools of communication that were supposed to connect us are now distancing us. Facebook algorithms are built to feed you content you like so that you will keep coming back to your newsfeed, and as you return, again and again, you can be monetized through advertisements. Because this curated, mirrored, world is the nature of many social channels, we have unwittingly created our own echo chambers, and for many that has become their reality. When we live too much in the shadow worlds we have created, we are shocked and outraged when we encounter a differing or challenging opinion. We need to fight this trend. We need to go outside and encounter people. That is the heart of Catholic Beer Club’s mission, to encounter people and build community. That cannot happen in an echo chamber. Let’s all agree to stop complaining online, and instead, go therefore, and be the change we hope to see in the world.