We sleep with our phones wrapped in a cord on our nightstands. When we wake up from our light sleep, disturbed by a glow of close screens, we’re desperate to check our messages. Our offline conversations, boredom, and solitude feel more distant as we refine our perfect profiles and link to clickbait stories on mobile devices. We spend more time posting updates on Facebook than we do playing a game of catch with our children.
Our primate need for an intimate bond, for a meaningful sense of connection in an extended community, have been hijacked by artificial, second-rate nourishment. We suckle on the electronic teat for a sense of warmth, acceptance, and belonging. Instead of milk gushing in our mouths, we taste the bitter residue of attachment.
Isn’t that what our civilization is, a dilution and removal of what we essentially need, such as clean air and water and soil, language, life in a harmonious community, family, and meaningful work, for a poor substitute? With the notion of progress, we always leave behind a part of our early humanity, whether from hunting and gathering to agriculture, small intimate communities to extended global networks of physically isolated, online associations. Technology indulges some aspect of who we are at the deepest level, but does it exploit us? Can it be controlled as it exponentially increases in scale or will we be the victims of progress?
We give up our privacy with our posts and Google searches and video watch times. Everything we do is up for grabs. Our data is harvested and traded and exploited between companies that want to sell us on their products (that want to make us their product). They need us to occupy our fleeting lives with checking feeds, lost in ideological bubbles, so that we can become lifelong consumers. We are hypnotized by the pseudo-fame of engaging online and making our identities known to our networks, even though our thousands of friends are abstractions. We get dopamine hits when we present a favorable version of our personalities and anticipate social rewards from likes and comments and shares. Then we alter ourselves gradually, unconsciously, to fit into digitally-constructed groups that reinforce our beliefs. We are trapped in technologies that prey on our human nature, on our love and hatred, on our desire and fear.
We shape the algorithms that continually shape us. Our choices are carefully filtered, our desires are selected and manipulated, through technological designs of persuasion.
The information that we receive, over time, becomes a confirmation of our biases.
We play a social game based on a slot machine design, pulling the lever not to win, but to continue playing for as long as possible. The unpredictability before the intermittent variable schedule reward (notifications) attracts us. Our nature is vulnerable to manipulation because we crave approval and acceptance. The more we use technologies that take advantage of our need for identity in a social group, the more we are susceptible to corporate interests and ideological groups. We carefully present ourselves on social media in a favorable manner while these same platforms are cultivating our own beliefs, values, and choices. We think we are free but we are always being used.
Social media is a distraction technology, designed to interrupt our working memory and higher cognitive functions. We are overloaded with hyperlinks, videos, articles, comments, and respond unconsciously to these infinite loops with the primitive parts of our brains, emotionally attached without awareness of what’s happening to us in the long-term. Even the presence of a phone in the same room, suggesting an endless connection to possibilities, can disrupt our attention span and forethought.
With the internet and social media and artificial intelligence and virtual reality, so connected in their development, so much still in their infancy, there is an endless potential for growth and connectivity.
Are these tools really neutral, though? What are the true intentions behind the companies that design and advertise and promote on these devices and will these devices be able to be understood properly, or even controlled, as they exponentially evolve into an unknown future, never before experienced in the history of humanity?
People have created devices. Now those devices are creating their nervous systems. They appeal to our deepest natures. They use our vulnerabilities against us.
Will we be able to examine how we use our devices and stop the insidious paths they’re developing in, finding ethical solutions to make them more educational and socially conducive for growth, or will the darker part of our humanity be exploited as we devolve in our communities and mental health and time?