Placing Blame

I think there is way too much self blaming in our culture right now. Reading a spate of 9/11 remembrance stories today, I can’t shake the tone of “look at all we’ve lost” that hangs over all of them. There’s so much derision of our culture and our divides and our inability to grieve and heal together.

Perhaps we all need to give each other a break and recognize that something is being done to us that we have little control over and is driving all of these massive, rapid changes in our culture. “Hypernormalisation” speaks to that in a very broad, generational way, but I watched another documentary yesterday that very specifically lays out why our society seems to be unraveling right now.

It’s called “The Social Dilemma” and it’s available on Netflix. It’s not a perfect doc, by any means. I found the dramatized sections of it a little obnoxious and not illuminating. We all see how social media are affecting us and, especially, our children today. We don’t need a little pageant to drive home the point.

But I highly recommend the movie because this is not the work of theory or academics. This is a collection of interviews with the people who helped build Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and major portions of Google. And what they have to say is terrifying.

I don’t think we fully appreciate just how thoroughly we are being manipulated on a minute to minute basis by these companies who pretend to treat us as customers, but in reality are just sucking us dry, like parasites on a host organism. These apps are free for a simple reason — we are the product, not the consumers. We are the vehicle for connecting the social media giants with advertisers, who suck us dry even if we end up buying nothing from them.

It isn’t in the selling where we are losing our humanity, it’s in the subtle ways these apps change our behavior to make us more susceptible to the advertising being placed in front of us — and that is most dangerous when the advertising isn’t about products, but about ideas. We are being grouped and corralled into our thoughts, losing our ability to think and form unique attachments.

I will let the movie speak for itself how this is happening and why. While the movie tries to offer some kind of silver lining that regulation could allow us to escape this, I can’t shake the feeling that it is already too late for that. Facebook in particular has become so important in shaping public opinion that it may be beyond the power of governments to regulate. And as one technologist interviewed said, their ability to know and control us will only get better.

So stop blaming yourself and the people around you for the shitty state of the world. If you want to take a stand to make things better, start by getting off social media.

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