Over the last months I became aware of a certain reluctance from my side to share events related to motorcycling: websites, days out, group’s ride, meetings, chat rooms and blogs…

I thought that this was a sign of age: after seventy years of life, many of them of two wheels the passion fades.

Those were my thoughts and I was surprised by the pleasure I was still getting from few rides done on my own.

I felt bike-schizophrenic for a while but, then, riding and  reading clarified the illness. I was socially claustrophobic and now, on the way to recovery, I can explain the what and the why.

Technology opens new horizons, it breaks borders and limits,it places everybody in instant contact with everybody or everything. Information, communication and socialisation are finally in easy reach and fast use for the 56% of the word population that , according to Internet World Stats, have access to internet.In addition, social media work hard to have you known by the population, to suggest new channels of contact, new experiences, new people, new things that “you may like”.

Although nobody can deny or ignore the great contribution to culture and civilisation brought by the availability of information, we may feel uneasy by the growing commercialisation that Internet bring to knowledge.

Mr. Ian Bogost, writing for the Atlantic  magazine was observing this process of techno-commercial intrusion The other day I attempted to congratulate my colleague Ed Yong for becoming a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. I was tapping “Awesome, Ed!” into my iPhone, but it came out as “Aeromexico, Ed!” What happened? The iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard works, in part, by trying to predict what the user is going to type next… and so goes the weird accident of typing on today’s devices, when you hardly ever say what you mean the first time… Or, try looking for some information online. Google’s software displays results based on a combination of factors, including the popularity of a web page, its proximity in time, and the common searches made by other people in a geographic area. This makes some searches easy and others difficult. Looking for historical materials almost always brings up Wikipedia, thanks to that site’s popularity, but it doesn’t necessarily fetch results based on other factors, like the domain expertise of its author.  As often as not, Googling obscures more than it reveals

I do not know whether to agree with the last statement on Googling but Mr, Bogost has definitely my attention. When I look for “gnostic” (casual choice) in my last printed edition of the Britannica Encyclopaedia I am directed to two essays: “Gnosticism” explaining the central concept of the philosophy and “Gnostic writers”  presenting the impact of most important gnostic thinkers.

In 0.60 seconds my slow server brings from Google 14.600.000 results, the first one being “Online Gnosis Courses – VenerabilisOpus.org‎” an ageless flame of universal knowledge distributing courses and books on line. Googles continues with a site promising to reveal a secret “guarded through the age by a small group of initiated” before referring me to Wikipedia (3rd). Based on my “likes” Google suggests as well to move the search to “Gnosticism for dummies” and I take this as a personal lesson of humility.

The point is that it is difficult to contradict Mr. Bogost statement: following “the likes” and “the money” Google often obscures more than it reveals.

When I start “liking” places covering a specific aspect of motorcycling, the future incoming information/ communications /notifications make me prisoner of “my likes”, slave of the passion of the past.

If you extend this to more important subject, it is not unusual to see how people now take news (and offer news) only to a specific group that “like” what they think.  Mr. D. Bromwich writing for the “London Review of Books”  wrote an article on this kind of “social enclave”  … a new keenness of censorious distrust has come from a built-in suspicion of the outliers in public discussions.  Social media refer to these people as ‘trolls’ and sometimes as ‘stalkers’; any flicker of curiosity about their ideas is pre-empted by a question that is not a question: ‘What’s wrong with them?’  Meanwhile, those inside a given group have their settled audience of friends and followers, to adopt the revealing jargon of Facebook and Twitter: a self-sufficient collectivist and happy to stay that way. To be ‘friended’ in the Facebook world is to be safe – walled-up and wadded-in by chosen and familiar connections. An unsafe space is a space where, if they knew you were there, they might unfriend you…. Where Facebook has a thumbs-up symbol – meaning ‘I like this and kind of agree!’ – but no thumbs-down, who will risk an exorbitant word? The cost would be a forced exit from the group; and the group is the lungs that make speech possible. 

And then one starts feeling claustrophobic, walled-up and wadded-in, socially enslaved. True, I can cancel all “social and search history”, most of the “informative” applications,  reject cookies, leave the media cells… go out and ride solo, you and your bike, like Ogri, knowing that you do it only for your benefit and joy and not “to share, hoping that many will like it”

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"