Do you waste hours scrolling through infinite feeds on your favourite app? Did you check your e-mail for the 100th time today? Did you stop an important task you were doing because your phone vibrated? Did you stop paying attention to someone you were talking too because of a pop-up notification on your desktop? If any (or all) of those seem familiar, I suggest you watch the documentary The Social Dilemma (see trailer) on Netflix. I think this hits the nail on the head when it comes to problems exacerbated by new technology which I was trying to talk about in a previous post.
I really like the way the problem is framed, and I feel somewhat relieved that my resistance to social networks might not be an indication of a character flaw. It also puts in check a general belief that we are in control of our thoughts and choices, something I have questioned over and over again. We are highly suggestible (maybe gullible?) animals and new technology just found out a way to make specific targeted suggestions with microscopic precision. New apps change our habits, the way we think, the way we work, the way we relate to each others, and we don’t even realize it. Maybe you are happy with this situation, maybe you think there is no harm done, since you are getting access to content that you would never be able to see otherwise. But we are really biased for judging what is good for us… For example, we all know that eating too much fat or sugar is bad for our health, but we can’t resist that desert every now and then. If we were less aware of our health, we might think that sweets are good for us because they just taste so good… so what’s the harm? The same thing happens with all this new technology, except we are in uncharted territory, in all senses, and it is not really clear what is and isn’t healthy. So we must treat this with care, and we must be extra judicious when spending time online. Where are we spending time? Is this time well spent? Is there a competition for our attention that prevents us from focusing on one thing? Are we happier with ourselves after unplugging from the online world?
I am definitely not happy. We need to admit that choices are made *for us* and that we are not so much in control. We need to recognize that first, and try to fight it. But we should not fight this alone. It is unrealistic to believe everyone will suddenly have the will power to control how much time they spend online, and how. Like many other aspects of life, we need policies to protect us from ourselves. Like having salads before deserts in buffets, calorie counts on labels, sugar-free options… We need sugar-free internet. This will only happen with a big shift in how the industry operates. And this can be triggered by social demand.
It is not like I believe the big internet giants are evil. This story has happened several times before: we do first, and think second, when we realize the mistakes, we adapt. I hope we are realizing our mistakes, and I really hope we adapt before it is too late.