Updated: Jan 5
On New Year’s Day with family, one of my outlaws said, “It was on social media so it probably isn’t true, but I believe it anyway.” He was making a joke, and it was funny. But everyone at the table sort of took in a breath and contemplated the truth of what he said. You see we all do that to some degree repeatedly every day, all day and all night. I’m particularly addicted, although I’ve been trying to quit. I read maybe six to ten lines every hour. Some make me laugh. Some make me cry but every one of them has an impact on what I believe whether they are true or not.
Several months ago, I forcefully directed everyone to see the new Neflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. I think the truth it revealed has had an impact. Frequently in conversation now, I hear little tags commenting on the way social media is manipulating people. Everyone has a story. Mine is about how I was talking to my friend about having my carpets cleaned and at about the same time I said something to my son about Sasquatch. A few minutes later I get a pop-up about “Sasquatch Carpet Cleaning Service.” I about fell on the floor.
One of the lines in The Social Dilemma says something to the effect of, take a thousand genius engineers, back them up with all the super computers in the world and your brain has absolutely no chance. They are intentionally trying to manipulate and addict you, and they are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. There are only two industries in the world that describe its customers as “users,” and they are the illegal drug trade and the software industry. One can argue, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just space age advertising. Sure, I can see that, but we all know, it doesn’t stop there.
Most of us know what’s happening. Our phones constantly deliver gradual, slight and imperceptible messages to us. They know our deepest, darkest secrets and our patterns and habits better than we do. They could blackmail us if they wanted to, but they don’t need to. They just slowly change the way we think and tell us what to do next. What could possibly go wrong with a room full of 20-something white guys deciding what’s right for us?
I’m not one to assume that those who are manipulating us are intentionally trying to hurt us. I’d even go so far as to suggest the powers that be – Zuckerberg, Pichai, Dorsey, Bezos and the others – are genuinely trying to make the world a better place. They’ve said as much. However, the trouble with that assumption is as old as history. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but the quote by Sir John Dalberg-Acton goes on, “Great men are almost always bad men…”
As I said, these days most of us know we are being manipulated, but we’ve made the conscious decision to go along anyway. It’s nothing new. All smokers ignore the warning label even though they know they are slowly inhaling their own death. We really like constant entertainment at our fingertips with loud, high-fidelity sound. They’ve already figured out how to link it with panoramic visuals. When they figure out how we can live the rest of our lives in a computer simulation, we'll really be on the road to nirvana . Take a look at your kids. How far down the path are they already?
But the truth is, the political and social manipulation we’re experiencing is only one thread in the tapestry of what is to come. Powerful entities all over the world are bellied-up to the weaver’s bench now, and it’s anyone’s guess how it will all come out. We were terrified during the Cold War that someone would blow us up. This age of fantasy and interconnectivity is every bit as dangerous, and maybe even worse because it’s not so easy to see what could happen. There are no explosions or obvious warning signs. We’re just being brainwashed into believing what someone wants us to believe. Maybe it will all end-up as some beautiful new way of life where there is no hunger, no pain or no sorrow. Maybe, but I'm betting on mass hysteria created by some bogus tweet.
If you’re not terrified now, you ought to be. The warning label is all too clear. Even the people who created this paradox believe that it will ultimately destroy global economies, lead to horrific civil wars and destroy civilization itself. They believe it is an existential threat that will be more immediate and more consuming than global warming. Anyway, gotta go check my Facebook.