Many Mes

faces

Photographer: Andrew Seaman | Source: Unsplash

MeMe and YouMe

The Buddha, peace be unto him, is famous for declaring there’s no self. Strictly speaking, he denied the existence of an abiding, permanent self, especially the metaphysical Atman of Brahmanical Hinduism. We are born, we grow into adulthood and then we pass away. Some think we restart that process in the next life. The Buddha says: one life or many, there’s no rock to tether the ship of existence.

Having accounted for the impermanence of time, the Buddha went silent. Space plays no part in his calculations. Sure, there’s no single self over time, but what about having the same self in space? Are we the same person in every direction?

Perhaps not.

Every one of us experiences ourselves from the inside-out. We refer to ourselves as “I.” It’s commonly believed that we have unique access to that Me-self, an experience of being me that no one else has, that there’s an inner door to a secret chamber that can only be opened by one key. Who else can tell me that I am in pain besides me?

But there’s another self (or many selves) of which I am only partially aware. I call it the You-self. That’s the self others see and experience. Why do we assume these two selves to be the same? When my daughter asks me not to be upset with her, and I reply that I am not upset at all, is it possible that both are right? Is it possible there’s a MeMe that’s fully transparent to the me-self and a YouMe that’s fully transparent to others and the two aren’t the same selves?

In the spirit of impermanence, let’s assume that MeMe and YouMe aren’t the same. Instead, they are somewhat consistent but far from being identical. Which poses a problem for any autobiographical effort because a recounting of MeMe can’t pass off as a recounting of Me in general. The rich and the powerful have always had alternatives — they can hire people to write about their YouMe or even better, if they are famous enough, others want to write about them of their own volition.

The rest of us have to try hard to get others to talk to us for a few minutes, let alone writing praises. But even the most avid biographer doesn’t have the access to my daily routine. In fact, I am too absorbed or distracted to fully grasp what I am doing. The wake of my passage is invisible to me. Fortunately, that data is being scooped up by our friendly neighborhood tech giant. If my data across various websites, social media properties and calendars is aggregated and made available to an automated story generation system such as Narrative Science, I might receive a half decent autobiography in the mail every morning.

Rajesh left home early yesterday morning. He caught the first train to South Station where he waited for the Acela for a full thirty minutes during which he flipped between his kindle and his phone. On the train he worked on the Acme report for the third time in so many days, changing most of the ten pages he had written the day before.

More suspense than my real life for sure. I might even pay for that service. But why stick to the real world. Why not probe lives I have never lived and don’t plan on doing so?

Technology comes to the rescue once again and here it can piggyback on the ruling ideology of the web. After all, most of my online explorations are funded by personalized ads trying to sell a future different me. Nothing new about creating desire by projecting a rosy future; every advertisement in the history of marketing has tried to evoke that very desire, but personalization brings new opportunities to the creative autobiographer.

Paths not taken

Forking forest path

Photographer: Jens Lelie | Source: Unsplash

O Skynet, who does Facebook think I am?

In an attempt to understand myself through the eyes of Zuck, I decided to take a screenshot of the first ad that Facebook inserts into my newsfeed every time I log in.

Hypothesis: If I take a screenshot every day for a hundred days I will learn more about who I am than a hundred years of Vipassana.

Just kidding, but I bet I will learn something. Don’t ask me what though, I am only on day 2.

Day 1: Today’s ad wants me to read like a CEO. Which is to say, not read at all but to get my staff to summarize it for me. Hey, at least I am better than Trump who doesn’t even read his summaries.

Sadly, I am going to pass. No $7 a month summary of business books for me. But the exercise frees up the imagination. Who is this CEO Rajesh? I’m thinking he wears a black suit on weekdays. On Saturday he changes into a silk kurta to celebrate his love for Mother India.

Day 2: Life is a roller coaster. Having rejected the offer to have summaries of business successes sent to my inbox, I missed a major opportunity while my competitors were making detailed notes. End result: I have been fired and my wife has left me.

Not to worry: DreamBuilder is here to rescue me from the jaws of failure.

It turns out that one in five men is utterly alone, without a friend in the world. Am I one of them? Facebook thinks so, at least today. How can I fulfill my dreams if I don’t have a warm community?

Dreamers of the world unite.

This story is still being written. Skynet is going to help me discover myself. Along with me_2, me_3 and every other self that fits into my life.