People “live in the same world, but they think and feel in different ones”. In his book Public Opinion (1922), Walter Lippmann uses these words to develop the notion of pseudo-environment. The latter is crucial if we have to understand in what contexts, with what forces and by what coordinates a process of continuous cognitive simplification – a so-called “non-truth” – is publicly created in a relevant and influential form, and subsequently becomes truth.
According to Walter Lippmann, the “real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance between people and their environment”, and the pseudo-environment is an evolutionary trick, organized to withstand the pressure of increasing complexity. Lippmann’s work was published in an era of “analogical pseudo-environments”.
Marco Dotti, “Regimes of Truth and Pseudo-Environment: From Epistemic Chaos to Epidemic Contagion”, Comunicazioni Sociali (no. 3, 2017)
Over ninety years have passed since then. We now live in the digital age and in a world of “digital pseudo-environments”. One might question, therefore, whether the American scholar’s view remains valid. What, in specific terms, are the global implications of the proliferation of environmental niches in relation to new media? My answer to this question is affirmative: Lippmann’s thesis is still valid, but it should be reversed. The digital pseudo-environment is not a shelter to the increasing complexity of the world. It is a complex, algorithmically mediated cage, which seeks to reduce complexity to banality. Engaging in human relations is no longer a process of evolution, but rather a process of involution.