I felt an extreme itch to write this rant for a while as I feel our entire culture is reaching a fascinating tipping point. Modern society needs to meditate on the problem technology poses and what its rapid affect is doing to us. I am convinced that humans are still emotionally in the 12th century. We are still easily tricked by magic or what we think is magic. There is good magic and there is bad magic. Good magic helps you cope, bad magic uses you to cope.
People always forget that the concept of a network of networks was primarily devised by that was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. I find it interesting that if you are young enough and you don’t remember life without the internet, you could care less about it’s origins. Why question invisible authority you don’t know exists?
It’s pretty clear that the successful electronic social network makes it socially acceptable to give up your personal information to a corporation. In the case of Facebook, they have attempted to build in privacy tools, but then they mutate them endlessly. It’s hard to imagine any user actually spending their time studying these privacy tools over and over again as they change. One of the greatest human forces motivates users to comply and conform. This force is simple peer pressure. Peer pressure overrides and is stronger than one’s own privacy.
Another fascinating aspect between our medieval minds and the digital world, is that we somehow think by deleting a picture, message or comment it actually goes away digitally. We somehow think a tangible thing disappears. There is no time on the Internet. Everything you’ve ever done is in a log somewhere in the present moment. The person looking at your log knows more than your own memory allows. Or the phone company knows the locations you frequent more than you do. How can archaic laws even apply to this concept?
A while back there was an application where families or couples could use GPS to know where their other members were at all times. It created instant suspicions in spouses. The fact that you would need this app shows an inherent mistrust in your significant other. I’m sure a kid would concentrate on a way to outwit the tracking. They would share information with their friends about rebelling against the product and their parents. They would figure out a way to turn it off.
The Facebook appropriation of the social graph concept fails as a model because humans are essentially 12th century locals. The FB model believes that your network goes beyond your actual known network and that you should use extreme transparency to share everything with the world. This is completely naïve.
This environment leads to some interesting issues. For one, an infinite social graph creates so much noise that there is no focus. You have no center of the universe. Location is undefined. It is a babble of distractions. There is no up or down when the signal to noise ratio favors noise. Most interesting is that a user’s empathy dissolves over time when subject to noise. You care but you really don’t care when that guy you went to high school with 10 years ago had a dog that died. You never see this person in your day to day real life. Noise destroys compassion. Somehow FB becomes a constant test of our ability to feel anything. Perhaps it is Zuckerburg’s brilliant way of making us all partially autistic.
I often think that if someone from the 12th century experienced our informational overload for just one day they would instantly think it was demonic because they wouldn’t be able to see the sources or origins.
The second issue with an infinite social graph is one of security. Potential threats are exponential and invisible. You think you know where people are and what they are but you only can know a fragment on global level. Humans only have so much capacity. In a real local community you know where to find people to be accountable when stuff goes very wrong. Communities are based on survival. It’s as if we have tried to evolve out of our need to survive and adapt by creating the simulation of some infinite social community. If your real house was destroyed by a hurricane your global community isn’t going to help you feed your kids. Your Internet might not work anyway. It’s not magic. You just think it is. Your local community is empathetic, because they are in the same situation.
Unseen filtering of information becomes important to combat noise. Dangerous censorship occurs on FB and you don’t even know it. This is a certain type of invisible techno fascism. There are certain sites you cannot post or link to in the fake community sandbox. Your reality is created by the queries you ask and the search engines you use on a daily basis. The results of these queries are subtly controlled without you knowing. Google uses your browser cookies. Your FB feed uses algorithms to double guess what you think you are discovering. It pushes certain stories down and makes them invisible. Its manipulations are invisible. You cannot see or delete the algorithm. This to me is the most disturbing aspect of our invented realities via social media. They need you to see ads above all. Finding info on FB is supposed to be difficult. The confusion is built-in. Myspace used the same technique so ad impressions are jacked up. You are the product. The lawyers need to protect the company. The corporation has tricked you into thinking you can operate as an individual, but it’s only what their framework allows. You conform without knowing. You can delete these abstract things called browser cookies if you know how, but you cannot see what corporations read in your cookies. Everyone has an invisible history that you do not have access to.
I fundamentally believe that the Nazis or some other totalitarian government would have loved Facebook in its posturing to subtly control masses and collectivize society effortlessly. It’s the perfect recipe for conformity and forgetting. You can leave it up to your social group to remember important things, only they are overwhelmed also. Everyone just craves more stimulation. Again your logs reveal more than you can remember.
When will we be starting to see censorship in the US over social networks? We already are, but you don’t notice it. People seem OK with this because it must be MAGIC in their minds.
You cannot see your real popularity on Facebook. You just imagine you can. Your participation is based on narcissism and illusion. What if there was a button labeled “Sell my information” or a Narcissism filter for that matter. What if you could see who in your extended network was stalking you? This would be a true social graph because you could see all the dimensions. You wouldn’t need to hide behind the mask of the profiteering framework. If there was no lurking, there would be no Facebook. They know this. It’s essentially the equivalent of walking around your neighborhood at night and looking in your neighbor’s windows and trying their doors. You hack identities, or what you think are identities on FB.
Extreme transparency cuts both ways. It provides access while undermining leadership. There have always been leaks from within institutions and governments. There have always been secrets to strategize and win conflicts. That’s part of governing. To deny this is idealistic and naïve.
The US Congress breakdown is a perfect example of being a victim of noise. I’ve heard the dysfunction of Washington is due to technology. I’ve heard that Congress cannot agree on anything due to fact that they mostly telecommute. Representatives who have to come to agreements cannot know each other personally. No one interacts when they used to be forced too. It’s more powerful to disagree to someone’s face than via email. Our decision makers have become flighty. Compromises are attempted and end up in drafts. It all becomes a shallow GROUPTHINK. Individuals don’t actually trust one another’s word. Transparency has become more feasible because of technology. Examine the recent 10k page Healthcare bill. No one is able to read it. We are bent into submission due to its noise. We elect officials to lead and cut through the noise, not to pander to the noise or corporate influence against that noise. Their flightiness ends up becoming more noise and not accountable decision-making. The sound byte has turned the lowliest politician into the biggest celebrity. We live in a perpetual state of re-election of celebrity not accountable governors.
Thirty years ago the audience for computers and technology were for non-conformists and OCD hobbyists. Now the magic and wizardry of computers has become integrated into our popular culture and is commercially main-stream. Our stock market is now dependent upon the value of technology. It has also become pervasive in our government and informational structures. We have all become conformists in a sense to an invisible system. We don’t object somehow to the information we give up, nor do we remember what we just clicked on.
Why is it that we live in a society of impossible innovation and purely magical information distribution but our tangible modern society seems to be collapsing. We have given the most novice user the ability to access unparalleled information and points of view but it seems to only distract and create endless arguments over debates. It’s as if people need to prove what they see in the noise around them. One is never fulfilled by noise for long. Would the banking crisis have happened if digital tools and advanced trading systems didn’t exist? A digital spreadsheet makes the concept of money even more abstract. Our medieval brains cannot seem to digitally handle the coercive magic.
There is no doubt in my mind that personal uses of technology were created to avoid personal interaction between local people. You could argue that the telephone also did this. You could say that information technology bridges some kind of gap that can make humans achieve the impossible. I say that both are correct and the area between these two concepts can become unethical and destructive towards society in an instant because of their increasing invisibility and dependence.
So we have gone in a full circle really. We are enmeshed in a DARPA controlled ARPNET only we don’t know it. We’ve unwittingly conformed because of consumerism and noise levels. Like Narcissi we have fallen in love with our own reflection. The idea of sacrificing anything on our own global social graph becomes terrifying. We’ll lose the friends and media we think we have. Corporations now own our social contacts. Technology has turned all your kids into unfeeling self-centered conforming zombies who’s rebellion is owned by a corporation.
In conclusion, I am NOT surprised that ADHD drugs have spiked since the invention of social networking. The human brain must adapt to consumerism even if it is via pharmaceuticals?! And you cannot tell me that real personal engagement hasn’t been compromised or derailed by the ease and non-commitment of electronic social applications. We are becoming less than human in technology’s bad magic. In the U.S. we think we are eternally global while being unable to sacrifice simple things to make that globalism realistic. We are truly dedicated to NOTHING TANGABLE.
- X.F. Pine