Time and space are the basic parameters of being in the world. Plants and animals fill their time and their space without question: the tree or the cow occupies its place in the world and its life-span completely and comfortably, seeking only to continue in them. Human beings as babies and children do much the same.
But the developing human brain loses or abandons this seamless occupancy of the world. People begin to question the size and shape of the space they occupy and the length of time they occupy it. They become restless and uncomfortable, they feel incomplete. Dissatisfied with the parameters of their being, they seek to change or escape them. This dissatisfaction has been called divine discontent. In Buddhism recognition of it is dukkha, the First Noble Truth.
Travel was for a long time one way to augment our limited experience of space. Unfortunately it augmented the experience of time only through discomfort. (Are we there yet?) But high-speed travel, eagerly pursued as a goal for the last couple of centuries and made more comfortable, shrinks time-between-places. At 50 miles an hour or so, motion begins to erase the experience of space, to diminish the awareness of traversal. Awareness of location begins to be limited to the vehicle, with little perception of the world outside it. At supersonic speeds the body has no experience at all of the distance traversed, only of the relatively brief time spent traversing it. At the speed of light the body would probably have no experience at all of either space or time.
However, since travel as we know it involves actually transporting the body, it provides no real escape from space and time. The body, however fast and far it goes, has to end up somewhere sometime.
Human beings discovered long ago that escape from limitations of time and space is possible through altering perception — by imagination, dream, stargazing, getting drunk, getting high, intellectual concentration, contemplation, art, mystical practice. Again, the escapade doesn’t last, since when it ends you’re right back in your own body, but it is a well-tested and popular tactic.
Symbolic language provides one of these means of altering perception. Writing and reading can occupy the mind with a symbolic experience completely excluding local awareness. Of course, eventually the book ends and you’re back where you started from. Although “you” may not be entirely the same person that started out to read the book.
The absorption of consciousness by symbol is heightened tremendously on the Internet. Virtual communication (all of which involves and much of which consists of reading or writing) is a mental or symbolic act that involves the body only in mental attention and some minimal physical motions. By almost disembodying consciousness, it erases awareness of location and lapse of time. On the Internet, corporeal consciousness is replaced with a tremendously versatile, almost purely mental existence consisting of immediate symbolic communication with other people, individually or in great although not clearly realized numbers, and access to symbolic reproductions of reality in the form of information, literature, images, music, games, catalogues of consumer items, etc. This wealth of symbolic reproduction is so extendable and can lead to so many connected and related reproductions that people can wander in it endlessly. Absorbed in virtual communication on the Internet, they successfully escape from consciousness of actuality, including mortality. Symbolic communications, active and passive, fill awareness to the point that the communicator is not aware of time, space, and the body that exists in such a limited region of them.
The Internet’s supply of channels of communication and of symbolic reproductions is already inexhaustible and still increasing.
To be free of the body, tied to no place in time and no time in place, yet having effortless, limitless access to everyone one knows, to all knowledge, and to immediate or securely promised satisfaction of desires would appear to be the condition of a blessed immortality.
What could possibly be wrong with it?