It has become crystal clear in recent months that big technology companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have a virtual strangle hold on large swaths of the American population. First, those platforms have helped create a tech addiction in Americans who turn their lives into mini-reality show versions of real life and post those on Facebook, let Google decide how to prioritize the information that flows to them and let Tweeting become part of their language. After becoming addicted, these platforms threaten Americans who hold particular views with rapid detox from them, which is a kind of banishment. The platforms effectively silence dissent through a modern-day equivalent of militant Muslims cutting out the tongues of those they consider infidels.
The problem is that even while so many of us recognize our addiction to big tech and the peril to freedom of speech it poses, almost all of us continue to use it. We invite Alexa into our houses and chuckle at “her” ability to play songs we request and answer questions we ask. We forget that in so doing, we are allowing Amazon to collect mountains of data about us, not to mention being dehumanized by being trained to interact with computers as we would with people. It’s like being a cocaine addict who clearly recognizes the drug might well cause her a stroke, then happily—or mindlessly, it might be better stated—snorts more of it. And, even worse, this drug is mainlined right into our minds, via our computers, “smart” phones and the Internet of Things (IoT).
We’ve crossed the Rubicon into technology dependence, like Caesar did in 49BC. The difference is that his crossing irrevocably precipitated the Roman Civil War. This time, we have cast the die on a Civil War Against OurSELVES, as we extinguish our own capacity to think, to reason and to relate to one another with empathy. We have sold our birthright as human beings for the cup of porridge that is quick and easy access to curated information, quick communication that lacks real connectedness, quick store checkout by robots who check us out by analyzing our buying habits and reward us with bar codes on coupons. It turns out our Achilles heel as a species wasn’t opiates or cocaine or alcohol or tobacco. It was laptops with lighted displays and smartphones and Bluetooth and social media.
So, is there a way out? Maybe. Reconnecting with the self is the most promising path. That means becoming at one with one’s true life story and values and beliefs. It means living with intention. It means cultivating empathy. It means prayer and meditation. It means reconnecting with nature. It means understanding that the words you are reading now, if on the Internet, can point you in the right direction, but are already tainted by them appearing on a screen, owned and operated by big tech and sold to you like so much IV tubing to drip pixels into your brain, mind, heart and soul. If you realize that, if you recognize that this is one tech contaminated human reaching out to many others, then we’re getting somewhere.
Dr. Keith Ablow