The Dystopian Future Is Here: Technology Addiction & Enslavement
May 17, 2016 § 20 Comments
“The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.”
“Technology is a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.”
Are smartphones making us stupid? They have certainly made us their slaves. Social media addiction is on the rise—compulsive internet checking has become the norm.
It’s crept up on us. It’s been less than a decade since smartphones were introduced to the main arteries of culture, and now it is flooding our collective bloodstream like a drug. The idea of opting out—unplugging permanently—no longer seems like a viable option for most people. But even as we willingly engage our pint-sized prison, we are increasingly, uncomfortably aware of its bars.
Sure, it’s great to be able to stay in touch with friends, have mobile up-to-the-minute map access, the ability to document digitally and look a fact up on the spot! But the sword cuts both ways.
We are also far less likely to experience a grounded sense of being present in the moment when, the second there is some space or silence, we have the option & impulse to check our email, text inbox, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s become like a tic for most people. We no longer have to face ourselves or others in those in-between-moments, we can just dive into our phones.
From Antione Geiger’s “Sur-Fake” Series.
75% of people between 18 & 25 respond “yes” to the question “when nothing else is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” (Time.com.)
According to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, one second less than the attention span of the notoriously ill-focused goldfish.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard (and uttered) the phrase, “I just haven’t been able to get into any good books lately” in the last year.
A recent study, 45% of people tested said they feel “worried or uncomfortable” when email and Facebook are inaccessible.
While 60 % stated “they felt the need to switch off” their phones and computers to secure a full-fledged break from technology.
“In other words, it’s not being on social networks that makes people anxious. It’s being away from them.” (Huffington Post.)
Charlie Brooker’s British television series “Black Mirror” (which I recommend watching, though it’s not for the faint of heart) sums up the situation expertly in the second episode: the opening scene depicts its lead character waking up in a room surrounded by wall-to-wall digital screens.
Instantly bombarded with advertisements, he proceeds to shuffle glumly through his morning routines. One’s first response is invariably: “Oh! How awful! What a way to live!” Uncomfortable calibration moment. “Oh shit. That’s us.”
“Fifteen Million Merits,” Black Mirror
Star Trek’s “The Next Generation” tapped into the dystopian future we are currently experiencing way back in 1991—an episode called “The Game,” in which a mysterious game is introduced on board the starship. The device engages the player’s brain, specifically their pleasure centers.
Before long, the entire ship’s crew is playing the game, peer pressuring everyone else to try it. Eventually, just two un-addicted crew members remain, then only one. (It’s really worth a watch for the eerie allegorical chill factor.)
“The Game,” Star Trek The Next Generation
“The Game” was prophetic: a release of pleasurable chemicals (specifically dopamine) is exactly what’s responsible for our growing collective addiction to nuggets of electronically derived information.
In her article “Seeking,” journalist Emily Yoffe details how the seeking instinct is a primordial vestige of biological necessity. Hardwired into our brains, it drives impulses like checking texts or Googling.
Yoffe refers to an experiment carried out in 1954 by a team of scientists involving a control group of rats.
“They would stick an electrode in a rat’s brain and, whenever the rat went to a particular corner of its cage, would give it a small shock and note the reaction. One day they unknowingly inserted the probe in the wrong place, and the rat kept returning over and over to the corner where it received the shock.
“They eventually discovered that if the probe was put in the brain’s lateral hypothalamus and the rats were allowed to press a lever and stimulate their own electrodes, they would press until they collapsed.”
The scientists assumed they had discovered the rats’ pleasure centers, but to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, “those self-stimulating rats, and the humans [who participated in later experiments] did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals were excessively excited, even crazed….in a constant state of sniffing and foraging,” notes Yoffe.
“Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn’t experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy.'”
(Cue the Smashing Pumpkins: “Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage.”)
“Seeking needs to be turned off,” concludes Yoffe, “if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we get the object of our desire (be it a Twinkie or a sexual partner), we engage in consummatory acts [which] reduce arousal in the brain and temporarily, at least, inhibit our urge to seek.
“But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. If humans are seeking machines, we’ve now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly.” (“Seeking,” By Emily Yoffe.)
We are navigating a Brave New World. As with everything, the first step is awareness. We have to admit we have a problem before we can get better. The point of power is choice.
The next time you find yourself going for your phone, don’t. Instead, look around. Observe the details of your surroundings, feel into the moment of being alive. The solution is simple; it’s just a matter of doing it, and in many cases, retraining ourselves, re-patterning compulsive, unconscious behavior.
There’s still time to allow our humanity to catch up to our technology.
Tagged: Culture, Dystopia, internet addiction, Psychology, Self-Improvement, Social Commentary
This is a great post and you have great graphics accpmpanying it as well.
I’m curious to see where this digital age will take us. The good thing about humans is that we adapt. The bad thing about humans is that we adapt.
Thanks for your comment, Nina!
Good one! Too true. It will be interesting, anyway.
P.S. Love your site!!! Wabi-sabi authenticuty, celebrating imperfections, very cool. We need more of that. ❤
Thank you soon much. Did your check out the stories? http://www.perfectreject.com/perfect-reject-stories/
I am addressing some of the issues that you write about in this post
I had just looked at the mission statement but now I’ve explored the stories too. Yes, definitely related with so many of my pet themes here at Parallax. Absolutely beautiful & meaningful.
You might check out my posts, “Wabi-Sabi: The Beauty of Imperfection,” “Fantasy, Reality & The Wabi-Sabi Of Self-Love,” & “Authenticity & The False Self.” I think you will appreciate the themes. 🙂
I will! Thank you
I’m happy someone else is noticing what’s going on.
I’ve been a software developer for over 30 years and I love technology. Just not iPads, iPhones, iPods, smartphones or most of social media. Those things just frustrate me because I can create anything I want with computers. And smart technology just slows me down.
Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, who is a really smart guy, says that this technology has created a generation of narcissists. That’s true. And it’s sad to think that people’s attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters.
I can’t tell you how many people will ask me a question and after I give just the first few words of my answer they are already turning to their smartphone to see what they’ve missed. Hey! I’ll tell you what you’ve missed – LIFE! Once in a while, they will even not wait for the answer, they’ll just walk out of the room. That kind of thing never used to happen.
Then there are the transhumanist groups who are selling the idea of implantable technology to the public. No thank you. I will never be implanted with technology until our world leaders have turned from their current service-to-self mentality to service-to-others. It would be too easy to be implanted, then post one wrong thing on Facebook, the authorities see it, flip your personal switch, and you’re an automaton from for the rest of your life. And don’t tell me that wouldn’t ever happen.
I think the greatest thing you can everyday do is work towards personal change. There are various ways to do it and I have exercises that I do everyday. But, I don’t see a lot of people doing that today.
Steve Jobs once told an interviewer that he didn’t let his kids use iPads or iPhones. In fact, he and his wife would not let their kids use any of that kind of technology. Gee, I wonder if he knew something?
A friend I used to work with in the IT world in Seattle was an avid gamer and in a very telling conversation one time, he told me this, “You know I have an addictive personality. I look back and see that all I’ve done in my spare time for the last 20 years has been to play video games. And what have I got to show for it? Nothing.” Now, here’s a guy who is very skilled at his job, has multiply network architect certifications, and runs a lab in the largest software company in the world. But, he’s addicted to gaming.
I live in Western WA state, one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. At least some of my friends go out and enjoy everything that there is to do here. It’s just they take their smartphones with them and still try to get a signal out at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Yes, I have a Facebook account, but I rarely use it. And I don’t like Twitter, PInterest, or Instagram. Okay, I admit that YouTube is pretty great. And the internet is the greatest research tool ever invented. But, I’ve said enough.
That’s my rant.
Work on changing yourself. It’s better than any drug you will ever take or any smart technology you will ever own.
I love your rant, Rod. 🙂 It’s a good one. It’s kind of insane that it’s gotten this far with only a vague sense of collective discomfort.
It has gotten completely out of control, this mediated experience of reality, this need to filter reality through secondary sources. And yes–this obsessive checking of smartphones.
I bet the majority of those people you described looking back at their phones before you had answered them would even describe themselves as addicted to their phones ~ but what else can we call such compulsive, repetitive behavior? We need to call it what it is if we’re to hope for a better trajectory than the one that is appearing to form at the moment.
“Hey! I’ll tell you what you’ve missed – LIFE!”
Ha! Yes. Hear, hear. Always appreciate your comments.
Oh my goodness this is exactly what we were talking about tonight. I told my husband I had finally gotten to the beach yesterday after climbing hiking and exploring old trails. I got lost even but had no internet to look up my GPS. I only had my brain and feet.
Then I got to the beach and sat down to enjoy it. There to my right was a lady on her smartphone not being very smart by being engaged in it not the beauty of the moment.
Oh.. one more thing… at the restaurant in the LV airport I go to when business travel the waitress teased me as being the talker. Yes… I actually start conversations with fellow travelers. Imagine that?
Thanx Tai for another spot on post!!
I’m so glad the post resonated. It really is something we need to start talking about! I am totally guilty of being a GPS dependent. Never having had the best sense of direction when it comes to city layouts, I was all too eager to hand over my brain to GPS. But it makes me nervous how little I retain geographically as a result. I’m going to start changing that.
Yes! Too many people in spaces of natural beauty—nose in the phone. It’s bad enough at a restaurant —what ever happened to human interest & interaction? Observing some cute little scene to your right, or taking note of something interesting to your left. But at places like the beach it’s truly disturbing!
I have found myself doing it as well. On a walk in my beautiful woodland wonderland I’ll find my eyes compulsively on the glowing screen. Um….yeah. Instagram is not as pretty as this forest, Tai. STOP IT.
I try to be self-aware & I am re-patterning the bad behavior that the newness of this technology has built up in me…but I fear for generations who don’t know the difference.
That’s why we HAVE to talk about it! 🙂
Thanks for your comment, batgurl. 🙂
How about getting a real camera so you capure those moments without the rest of the bells and whistles… that is my way of being engaged.. but then I grew up without a cell phone. Even went to Europe in 1974 with only a backpack, a pen and map.
I do have a real camera & I love photography. One of my favorite hobbies. They take better pictures anyway. 😉
I grew up without a phone as well. (80s child.)
Re 70s minimalist backpacking in Europe: so cool! We are so much less brave now.
To play devil’s advocate: is technology addiction dystopian, or is it just different? Could the ubiquitous Internet presence be ushering in a new age of global interconnectivity, where individuality is eventually diminished and we all join into a single organic collective, like the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? This seems like a more positive expression of collective consciousness as opposed to the Borg. Maybe it’s not ubiquitous technology that’s the problem, then, if we practice a conscious engagement with it?
As Terrence McKenna says, “We are building the nervous system of the human oversoul. We are individual units operating under social rules that are pushing us ever closer toward dissolving our societies… societies—human groups run by rules—into telepathic collectivities of some sort. … We have come to the end of our sojourn in matter. We have come to the end of our separateness.”
An interesting point, Alan,
I don’t think my point is mutually exclusive from what you are saying at all. I absolutely think it is entirely possible that the internet is a web of connection that will ultimately bind human consciousness into its next evolutionary stage of consciousness. I have a distinct suspicion McKenna’s Oversoul idea is exactly where we are instinctively driven…if my Satori moments of our true interconnectivity are any indication. 😉
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s The Dominion is a good example of a collective that is not Borg-like, but blissfully united, able still to emerge as individuals….
However, I don’t think that potentiality cancels out the lack of presence & in-the-flesh connection that happens when people are so quick to look at their phones that they miss meeting eyes & making conversation with the human beings right in front of them. I think we need to take stock of when, where & why we are turning our attention to our technology; just to be conscious & intentional about it.
But a very interesting point! A more positive take to be sure. Thanks for being part of the conversation. 🙂
Selection of pictures could not be better!
Thanks remanandhra! 🙂
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Thanks for including me in your cool post!
P.S. I’m a lady — lady power! (You said “his” ;)) Honored to be included either way.
I must agree with Nina, the graphics are great indeed. Always.
Weather sparkly glitter-Gif’s (which i saw here on Parallax for the first time and have never forgotten the vibrant impact they had) to the modern expressionist-art that begins this article. Always a great collection and helps balance the learning of logic with the feeling of the heart as we read!
And i love the last line, Tai, what a great summation of the The Paradox of Our Times as Dalai Lama once extrapolated.
Yours is going in my quotebook.
Hi Tai, I have missed a lot of your post, like 11 months of it — took me some time to catch up … wondering about the busy life I lead being wired to work, entertainment and family through the internet which provides me with an income … while taking all my time.