Technology has quickly changed the way we live our lives. It’s hard to imagine that 20 years ago there was no Internet, 15 years ago there was no “social media” and 10 years ago we weren’t glued to our smartphones. All of these new things snuck up on us without our ability to prepare for them and through them we’ve voluntarily hooked ourselves up to the matrix… which, interestingly, debuted with Keanu 18 years ago (thanks Google)!
Before we had the Internet, our minds were limited to the information we had access to, which was mostly determined by television, our friends, authority figures, advertisers and how willing we were to go to the library. If we wanted to sit around and watch cat memes all day, our only choice was to go stare at live cats.
Now, we have access to more information than we ever could have imagined. Good things, bad things, really bad things and things you wouldn’t even confess to your priest. Things that we wouldn’t have even imagined seeing or Googling before the Interwebs was a thing. But hey, at least now I know why Daylight Savings time is such a contentious debate.
But the Matrix is a Two Way Street
Not only do we have access to all the information we could ever want and need, but now the Internet has nearly unabridged access to our brains. Google knows every question we’ve ever had, social media knows our thoughts and how we spend our time, and advertisers know every one of our “attributes” so they can quickly parse through our minds and determine which ads to “target” us with.
We voluntarily give them this information through our online habits… what we watch, read, share and like. In return to the “access” they grant us, they take all of our information, mine and monetize it.
Actually, it’s not as voluntarily as we like to believe. Engineers and designers sit around all day scheming the best ways to keep our attention on their app, website or phone. They want us to be sucked in because all of our screen time is valuable to them. Have you noticed lately how strange it is to be away from your phone for more than a few minutes? It’s a safety net we quickly grab when there’s any down time (elevators, standing in lines, driving, hanging out with a boring friend, etc).
So it’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship, right? Google gives us the answers we need, social media confirms how perfect our friends’ lives are, and in return we give them all of our secrets.
Unfortunately, it seems to be more of a parasitic relationship. The online world is the parasite as it feeds off our deepest fears and hidden agendas. The technology that was supposed to make us all smarter and healthier is instead making us sicker.
And the Matrix Empowers the Crazies
In the past, there were still a lot of unknowns trapped inside our heads and while people might have thought we were a little crazy, they couldn’t quite prove it. However, now that your crazy uncle has access to social media and shares his conspiracy theories on how knitting is not simply an exercise to make nice little booties, but instead an underground movement sponsored by the UN to train ninjas who will take over the US, it’s easy to see he’s nuttier than squirrel shit.
He could only discuss this with the voices in his head or occasionally let it slip during Thanksgiving dinner, but now he has his own platform on social media to share with the world. He’s empowered and probably has at least a few other hundred people who all feed off the same tainted meat of misinformation.
This spreading of misinformation has become even more evident with the news that Russia is manipulating all of us. Social media, and Facebook specifically, were sold to us as a savior’s attempt to “connect the world” and pull us all together, but all it has done is divide us even further and allow those divided groups to be parsed out and have their fear and anxiety exploited for profit.
We were probably all better off in the past when we simply didn’t have access to all of this information, even if it was truthful. In theory, we should be better off knowing we can quickly google the facts, but unlike the “encyclopedia” the Internet originally seemed to mimic, it’s evolved into an upside down world of opinion that drives fear, xenophobia, misinformation and a lot of stupid theories. Anyone can can create their own website or post their own set of “facts” – even idiots like me!
Where do we go in the future?
I wish I was optimistic that the Internet and social media could help fix the problems it has expanded and exploited, but I think we all know it probably won’t. Instead, it will become even more divisive and immersive as we dive deeper into augmented reality. Now we won’t even have to read a post or listen to a video to be convinced of something, but instead we’ll be sitting in the virtual room with our crazy uncle and his minions while he convinces us to not start knitting.
Until there are better controls of all the crazies and misinformation – which will probably never happen because it comes too close to infringing on our first amendment rights and profits – the only answer I see is self control. We need to limit screen time for ourselves and anyone else we can help.
My biggest problem is I like checking stocks during the week and fantasy football on Sunday – so the only easy day to stay off is Saturday! Inevitably, after I check those biggest addictions, I run the list of other things I must check like Apple News, Twitter, Instagrams and begrudgingly, Facebook.
My new goal is to only unlock my phone once an hour. It’s so ridiculous as I’m basically saying I can “only” check it like 15 times a day, but at least I would have some control over it. I also refuse to check it first thing in the morning before I get out of bed, as I usually do. Instead, I’ll just look at my beautiful wife (I’m sure she’ll enjoy waking up to me staring at her every morning).
What strategies do you use to unplug from the matrix? Do you think this is a problem or am I just the one going crazy?