We are living in a generation where everything that we need and want is at our fingertips. And we should be grateful to the technology companies who have given us such advanced technology to not only make our lives easy and convenient but also for providing us with a variety of choices/options/alternatives to choose from. But are we making the best use of these technologies? Are we controlling these platforms or is it the other way around?
“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse — Sophocles.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and other similar platforms have become an essential need of our lives. Without it, life seems boring or un-happening. We have the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) on things that are probably not even related to us. Is it FOMO that we have or is it the addiction that we have to our phones and these social media platforms?
The Silicon Valley companies, when introduced these platforms, did not do it to make us addicted to our electronic devices. They did this intending to connect people (which it still does in the best way), spreading love and happiness. They invented the like button on Facebook with the motive of spreading positivity and love, not anger or depression or political polarization.
But what these companies didn’t know or predict that they could misuse these platforms for many inappropriate/negative/ harmful things, which could harm people mentally and emotionally.
Teenagers in the past decades were active, they used to meet each other in person, activities were more fun when they were gathered together at one place. But as time is passing by teenagers have the urge of getting their “own” mobile phones from a very young age. They are becoming addicted to their electronic devices, spending less time with their families, becoming introverts and this is affecting their mental health too. A surprising fact is that- a lot of teens these days are doing cosmetic surgery, which according to a lot of doctors is a new syndrome called Snapchat Dysmorphia, to get looks that match the various filters on different platforms.
There has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for a lot of teenagers globally which began around 2012–2013. The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in America who were admitted to hospitals every year because they cut themselves or harmed themselves, has gone up by 68%-70% for old teen girls (15–19) but has gone to about 165%-175% for young teen girls (10–14) and the numbers keep rising every year. We see the same pattern with suicide; the numbers have gone up by 70% for old teen girls and by 150%-155% for young teen girls, and the number keeps rising every year for the same.
“We have gone from information age to disinformation age.”
With the increasing advancement of these technologies, we are also moving into the age where it has become difficult to differentiate between facts and myths. Fake news spreads faster than the facts with the help of these platforms, and there are a lot of incidents and events that you can find to prove this. ISIS has gained followers online through various unethical means and some people are blindly just following it because they are unaware of the facts. We are allowing such problems to be framed as something that it equips only the technologists to solve, but this is not true, Artificial Intelligence (AI) cannot solve the problem of fake news. Google doesn’t have the option of saying “Is this the truth”, “Is this a conspiracy” because they don’t know the truth. Fake news is no less than an existential threat to this world.
“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product- Tristan Harris (Former Google Design Ethicist).”
Facebook, Google, Pinterest, etc., were initially devised as a “TOOL”. A tool is something that is waiting for you patiently to be used. But if it’s demanding your attention, e.g.: so many notifications from a particular app or website will surely distract you no matter how much you try to control, then it’s not a tool. It’s called “manipulation”. It wants things from us. These platforms have gone from a Tool-Based environment to an Addiction and Manipulations based technology environment.
Ever wondered how big tech companies like Google and Facebook are a few of the very wealthiest companies in the world when most of the services provided by them are free of cost? Are these companies, even after being aware of the above problems, are working on finding the solutions to address these problems?
We all come across various ads while scrolling Facebook or Instagram, and those advertisements are related to what we are thinking in our mind that we need. But how are they able to know what we need/ want when we haven’t shared the information with anyone related to those companies? Feeling spied? The artificial intelligence of these companies works in a way that they keep a track of what we are searching for in Google and save this information as a recommendation in their database. And then they show the ads to us, for which they are being paid by various other companies. Cringey? Feeling like a product? Well yes, we are the products through which these companies generate the big number profits.
Shockingly, people who are working in these companies, before working are taught Growth Hacking — hacking people’s psychology and this helps them to make a technology called the Persuasive Technology. It mainly relates this technology to manipulating human thoughts. This is one of the particular technologies that help the above companies sell advertisements to us.
Yes, surely these companies have benefited many people and helped them in ways in which would have been impossible in a world without such advanced technology. And the point is — it is not the fault of these companies or their software. They came up with this intending to help people connect globally without using a lot of resources, to help people get as much knowledge as possible, to help with every good thing possible. The fault is in the business model and the laws. There are very few rules and regulations for digital privacy, but there are a lot of rules and laws for protecting the rights and privileges of gigantic companies.
“It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perspective that is the product”
What we really can try to do is control ourselves. If we have children or younger siblings, we establish rules for them for using their electronic devices. If we find some wrong information being spread, we should immediately report it instead of thinking that maybe some other person will do it. These little actions can create an enormous change and improve the lives of so many people who are negatively affected by this amazing technology that has been created to be used for rightful and legit purposes and not for spreading negativity, hate, or sadness among the people.
“We live in a world where a tree is worth more financially, dead than alive, in a world where worth is worth more dead than alive. For so long as our economy works that way and corporations go unregulated, they are going to continue to destroy trees, to kill whales, to mine the Earth, and to continue to pull out of the ground, even though we know it’s destroying the planet and it’s going to leave a worse world for the future generations.”
I wrote this article after watching the movie “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. This is a documentary that highlights some bitter truths of the business model of the gigantic Silicon Valley Companies. There are interviews of the ex-employees of these companies who unveil the truth. It’s a movie worth watching.