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Opinion | ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ and the Dark Timeline Humanity Is On

But the internet today does tell you who you are, and it’s hardly a place free from prejudice. Silicon Valley’s prevailing ethos has moved away from the idea that the internet can be a space to live outside society’s demands and expectations. At Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg, for example, has argued that having a second identity is “an example of a lack of integrity,” and the social media company’s policy explains that “Facebook is a community where everyone uses the name they go by in everyday life … so that you always know who you’re connecting with.” Such strictures recall the main villain of “The Matrix,” Agent Smith, a corporate apparatchik working on behalf of the machines, who insists on calling Neo by his original name. “It seems that you have been living two lives,” Smith chides in the first film, after arresting Neo. “One of these lives has a future. One of them does not.”

Despite the pseudonyms, trolls and alter egos that still dwell in some corners of the internet, its main byways now prize consistency and transparency over the risks of anonymity and reinvention. The idea of the internet as a place to cultivate an identity outside the slots other people put you in has been eclipsed by a social media-driven focus on creating an aspirational personal brand. Self-realization is now measured in likes, shares and follower counts.

“Our digital presentations are slicker, influencer-influenced,” Ms. Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at M.I.T., told me. “Everyone wants to present themselves in their best light, but now we have a corporate filter of what ‘pleases.’”

The cultural shift toward holding one narrowly defined identity — online and offline, across platforms — aligns neatly with Silicon Valley’s interests. The aim of many tech companies is to know us more intimately than we know ourselves, to predict our desires and anxieties — all the better to sell us stuff. The presumption that we each hold a single “authentic” identity simplifies the task, suggesting to advertisers that we are consistent, predictable consumers.

The tech theorist Mark Andrejevic, the author of “Automated Media,” has used a provocative term for this mode of capitalism: “umbilicular commerce.” Just as an umbilical cord provides for a fetus’s needs before it can communicate them, so too do tech platforms strive to sate our desires before we have expressed them. Mr. Zuckerberg has said he wants to find “a fundamental mathematical law” that “governs the balance of who and what we all care about.” And Amazon’s predictive algorithm for what it calls “anticipatory shipping” uses artificial intelligence to predict what you’ll order and stock it in a warehouse near you, for same-day delivery. This is a vision where the internet amounts to little more than a big, mind-reading “vending machine,” providing products the moment you think of them, or earlier.

Mr. Andrejevic’s term has an eerie resonance with “The Matrix,” where humans are grown in womb-like pods and then plugged into the simulation through umbilical-like cords. (The title comes from both an early term for the internet and a Latin word for “womb.”) The setup suggests our infantilization, a future where all our desires are fulfilled in advance yet agency has ceased to exist, where the darker facts of our digital existence — the alternative interests at its center — are concealed from us. It is a future very like our own.

As “The Matrix” franchise returns, the optimism around the internet in 1999 feels very far away. In our age of climate breakdown and extreme inequality, the hours we while away online are increasingly shadowed by an awareness that, like humans plugged into the Matrix, we perpetuate a system that does not have humanity’s best interests at its heart, a system that may in fact be working actively against us.

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