On Identitatea virtuală, by Mihnea Măruță

I’m a longtime admirer of Mihnea Măruță (Facebook profile, texts on PressOne, Humanitas profile).

When he launched his (hopefully, first) book – Identitatea virtuală, this thing made me happy.

I bought, while in Bucharest, at Bookfest 2023, three copies, one for me and two for some friends (without reading the book first, but I knew Mihnea Măruță’s writings from other media).

I read it.

Also, I watched the videos from the website, the video with the launch at Bookfest (I wasn’t in Bucharest at that time), and the video on Upgrade 100.

Below are some thoughts.

  • Analyzing the book as a whole: it’s rather difficult for me to have a general overview of things, so, below, you’ll mostly see details.
  • The need for such a book: I don’t remember the exact context, I don’t remember the author (I think it was Horia-Roman Patapievici), but I heard one person asking for a book on a topic like “how does technology influence our souls?”. Another book on the topic: Demența digitală by Manfred Spitzer.
  • The American ChatGPT vs. The Romanian speaker CTP: I don’t like calling Cristian Tudor Popescu “CTP”, but I like the play on words. Sometimes at the launch (video on the launch 11:50), he said something in
    the lines of: Artificial Intelligence doesn’t have the capacity of humankind to make surprising connections between various fields and things, but instead has a huge database (on a totally different level than humans’). I would consider it’s quite the opposite, creating connections is what ChatGPT is best at – making connections between apparently unrelated things. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to write you not just an essay, but essay in the style of X, or considering certain things etc.
  • Scrolling the book: at 3:54, Cristian Tudor Popescu says you can’t scroll the book. Actually, you can do another thing, which I did and regret it – read it by skimming. I like the style of Mihnea Măruță, but I am used to skimming online. Also, the podcast can be listened to in the background.
  • Ideas that are already known: I might remember wrong, but I think Ioana Pârvulescu, giving a list os reasons to appreciate a certain writer (I forgot who; Gabriel Liiceanu? Not sure), said something along the lines of “truth must be told, even if everyone already knows it.” There’s nothing wrong with repeating the truth. I like this idea, and I think it applies to the book of Mihnea Măruță. He tells the truth, even if others might know it already.
  • The permanent presence of an online message: the author says, as I perceive it, that once you post something online, it will remain there. I beg to differ. Sure, if you post something on a social network, and a few days later you visit the archive, that thing you posted (text, photo, video, presentation, document etc.) is likely there. On the other hand, finding something posted long time ago, for a person who posts a lot of things, is generally much harder. I plan to launch a business (En / Ro) for saving elder people’s data for future generations. But, today, just by posting something online it doesn’t mean it will still be there on the long run. Quite a few networks have some systems built specifically to make finding things a person posted some while ago difficult (photos that are not searchable, an archive which is hard to view if a person posts a lot – no pagination, posts that only last for 24 hours – Insta Stories, viewing restricted to a close circle etc. etc.). I have a friend who deletes messages posted in history after a while. So, you can view what that person posts, but after a while the messages get deleted. To me, this is irrelevant, by keeping them they will likely be invisible anyhow.
  • Short URLs: like a parent who projects his/her unfulfillments to their child, I’ll tell you a story. Around 2007, I was working on my graduation thesis for a Master’s Degree. I insisted on using URL shorteners, such as tinyurl.com (I think this one was more popular at the time, rather than bit.ly, today) on links. The coordinating teacher said it’s not typical, we shouldn’t do this. I was disappointed. I project now my disappointment in Mihnea Măruță’s book. He also uses long URLs in the bibliography, not also giving a short URL. He had an advantage over my situation years ago – he has a website (https://www.identitateavirtuala.ro/), and he could create URLs such as https://www.identitateavirtuala.ro/udh (so, with a few letters at then, picked randomly at the creation of URL), or perhaps https://www.identitateavirtuala.ro/01 (a counter), or https://www.identitateavirtuala.ro/book-on-imagination/ (or a short title like this). The advantage of using their own website would be the control over the short URL. If the long link becomes invalid, and doesn’t work anymore, he could just update the short link to reflect the change.
  • Difficulty in reading: the author does a lot of things to make reading easier – explaining words, translating, putting things in context, and using, generally, familiar and common words. But the difficulty of reading comes in the fact that the concepts require a certain formation. You need to have a certain formation to be able to properly read and understand the book. At least, this was my impression of it.
  • Devil’s advocate: sometimes, I feel that Mihnea Măruță is a bit like a lawyer – if he has an idea to present, he’ll present all the things helping his case, but focus much less on opposing ideas. I like the case he’s trying to “sell” to the reader, but I would have preferred more contradictory opinions. “What if… ?”
  • A poetry book: after reading the book, I feel it’s like a poetry book – it makes me imagine things, it takes my mind places (like MasterCard – 1996 MasterCard Credit Card Ad – You’re Going Places | eBay). I can’t find the quote, but I read in an English manual something in the lines of – when you dream/imagine things, a poet was there before you.
  • Definitions and classifications: I’m not a big fan of using them in a book, especially at the beginning, but they’re used as a pretext to start thinking about them.
  • Subjectivity: I think the book is incredibly objective – it doesn’t say virtual reality is good or bad, it just gives insights into it. At some point, it’s not easy to find the personal touch. Of course, there’s one, but a lot of times, I read the book via rather objective writing from the author.
  • Common ground: it might be difficult to mention cultural works common to lots of people. As there are lots of things that want to capture the attention, the things (books, movies, TV series) mentioned in the book are sometimes unknown. Mihnea Măruță explains them well, but still, if you read about a movie you haven’t seen, you don’t fully understand the message.
  • Did you read the book? No, but I’ve seen the movie (podcast): you could say this about this book.
  • Solutions: I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but the book tends to raise questions and meditation topics rather than offer practical solutions. It would have helped me to see a list of recommendations from which I would pick some to implement.
  • Impossible solutions: I work online, I found that it’s rather difficult to impose limits, such as “I don’t like the technical aspects of a certain communication media.” If I preferred Skype over WhatsApp, it wouldn’t matter – since most of my friends don’t use Skype, it would be pointless to be on a better (hypothetically) technical platform – I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. So, even if would try to put some limits, due to the fact that I work online, they would be hard to impose. I don’t like a certain network with short-form videos for mobile and on which a lot of content tends to be low quality. I tend not to promote that network. Still, I use it from time to time due to some entities (companies, persons) that I like following and posting exclusive content there.
  • Skipping things: I found that I can read the book by directly going to a chapter.
  • Rereading the book: I plan to do so after a while.
  • Being annoyed by the truth: sometimes, Mihnea Măruță says some things that I don’t agree with, and they can be annoying. Some of those things are true, yet still annoying. (later edit)

PS, 2023.06.24: Mihnea Măruță în dialog cu Constantin Vică, Dragoș Stanca și Vlad Zografi – lansarea volumului „Identitatea virtuală. Cum și de ce ne transformă rețelele de socializare”.

PS, 2023.07.26: The book was written to be read while contemplating things. I didn’t do this, I read it on “fast forward”.

PS, 2023.07.26: You should follow Mihnea Măruță’s Facebook account for updates.

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