The printing press, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane: each in their own way radically shrunk the world, diminished the power of mere distance to maintain our strangeness to one another. Yet, arguably, no human innovation has served as a greater tool for transcending Nature's most seemingly impregnable boundaries, space and time, than the World Wide Web. The Internet, that curious and most favored tool of our particular variety of talking ape, also has facilitated the trespassing of infinitely more complex human-constructed borders, those of nation, culture, even language. It quite literally translates, deciphers and transmits the foreign, the distant and the strange in an instant, on command.
Alas, the one remaining boundary the Internet has not yet broken, because (as some philosophers have argued) it cannot be broken, is the one that delimits the space of idiosyncratic subjective experience, if not also the idiosyncratic relations of that subject to the purlieu and milieu in which its experiences are experienced. During the last several months, we've seen several noble efforts at border-crossing the empathy/sympathy divide, efforts that more or less amount to digitally establishing communities, both in the positive sense of solidarity (#BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie, #ICantBreathe, #YesAllWomen) and in its negative sense (#NotAllMen, #NotAllCops, #NotAllMuslims, #IamNotCharlie). There is an interesting existential symmetry to both these negative and positive labors-- "I am x, like you" and "I am, like you, not-x"-- as they likewise attempt to articulate, express and encode what are in effect shibboleths. Because their codes are meant to be deciphered, because they are intended not to be secrets but rather passwords, they both reinforce and threaten the borders of the very communites they mean to establish each time they are uttered in public.