In our modern age we find ourselves surrounded by paradoxes. With more of us voting, democracy seems to be eroding at alarming rates, especially in the west. With greater understanding of our planet, climate change and environmental disaster seems to be right around the corner. With more and more convenience in our lives, plastic is overtaking the amount of fish in our waters. With more and more “stuff” in our lives, anxiety and depression are soaring throughout the population. And the list goes on.
One particular paradox I find myself intensely interested in is to do with technology, and one question in particular. Is all this smart technology making us dumb and depressed? In 2010 the American author Nicholas Carr wrote his seminal book The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. The book focused on the internet, this thing that is in reality dumb due to the chaotic nature of the way data and information, disinformation, and misinformation is presented, shared, over-shared, and consumed.
My own opinion is that technology and the internet are making us all dumber. One of the many ways we are indeed making ourselves dumber is the way we are outsourcing our thinking and relying on supposedly smart technology to micromanage our daily lives for the sake of cheap convenience. Another way is all the over-sharing many of us do. Too much social media clearly brews a kind of relentless unhappiness for many of us, acting as a stimulant to continue their own brand of narcissism.
And it seems I am not the only one who thinks like Carr and his hypothesis, which leads to another paradox of our times. With more and more technology, the greater the backlash against all this technology. And adding to the irony is the fact that the backlash is disseminated online, on the very platform being so stringently criticised.
So keen is my interest in this subject matter that I like to collect quotes from various sources that capture the chaos, the madness, and the paradox of the technology we are knee-deep in. And it’s only going to get deeper. I can’t wait for the day when your smart glasses inform you to look at your smart watch, which then tells you that you have a notification on your smart phone, which is constantly listening to you and monitoring your location. Have fun making sure all those gadgets are fully charged! And that’s assuming AI and the subsequent robot uprising does not decide to destroy us all. I, for one, welcome over robot overlords. Anyways, please find below a selection of quotes that echo these sentiments. As always, enjoy…
The internet provides us with seemingly limitless data, prose, images, video and other raw materials that could in theory enhance our intelligence and enable us to become more knowledgeable, to be more skillful or to otherwise use actionable intelligence. Maybe we could improve our decision-making, reflect on our beliefs, interrogate our own biases, and so on. But do we? Who does? Who exactly is made smarter? And how? And with respect to what? Are you and I, and our siblings and children, engaging with the seemingly limitless raw materials in a manner that makes us more capable, more intelligent? Or do we find ourselves outsourcing more and more? Do we find ourselves mindlessly following scripts written or designed by others? – Brett Frischmann
The internet promised the library of Alexandria at our fingertips, delivered instantaneously wherever and whenever we like. It delivered that and much, much more. One might describe the exchange in Faustian terms, as trading one’s soul for knowledge. Putting aside concerns about what’s been lost (our soul, humanity, etc.), it’s not even clear that the promised knowledge was delivered. To make matters worse, evaluating the Faustian bargain is even more difficult when the intellectual capabilities required to do so seem to be waning, at least for many of us. – Brett Frischmann
Imagine what we could do with our money, and hours, if we set our phones aside for a year…More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion. – Paul Greenberg
Charlie Brooker once did a list of the greatest video games ever and he put Twitter at the top of the list. It’s enormously distracting, but it is just a game…I spend a lot of time on social media and people ask me if the abuse I get is upsetting, but working in comedy has built up my skin – I’m used to hecklers. Their interest is in being heard and turning the volume up on themselves. The very nature of social media is people waving the flag of self. – David Baddiel
I was putting too much weight into who was viewing my Instagram. I would worry about how a post was performing instead of making important calls. I felt a certain pressure to make a brand of myself, and there was so much anxiety in that…I’d be lying if I said I could look at an explore page on Instagram and not compare myself to what I see on those pages. Someone is purchasing something you can’t purchase or making connections you haven’t yet made. It’s the rat-race lifestyle boiled down into the palm of your hand, and sometimes it feels inescapable. – Alexandra Mondalek, fashion reporter in New York
People naturally compare themselves with others because it helps us figure out where we stand. However, Instagram, more so than any other platform, confuses our social comparison radar. We’re constantly trying to figure out if we’re more or less attractive, smart, and accomplished than everyone else. With Instagram we have immediate access to all of these idealized images, which aren’t always an accurate representation of the world. People tend to post only their best images on Instagram, using filters that make them look beautiful. We have a false sense of what the average is, which makes us feel worse about ourselves…We should try to educate young girls about the consequences of spending too much time on this platform. And we need to try to find ways to bolster confidence. People come in all shapes and sizes. – Danielle Leigh Wagstaff, psychology professor at Federation University Australia
A friend who stumbled upon my Twitter account told me that my tweets made me sound like an unrecognisable jerk. “You’re much nicer than this in real life,” she said. This is a common refrain about social media: that they make people behave worse than they do in “real life”. On Twitter, I snark. On Facebook, I preen. On Instagram, I pose. On Snapchat, I goof. It is tempting to say, as my friend suggested, that these online identities are caricatures of the real me. It is certainly true that social media can unleash the cruellest side of human nature. For many women and minorities, the virtual world is a hellscape of bullying and taunting. – Derek Thompson
Each social-media platform has its own culture and patois but, broadly speaking, the internet is a kingdom of self-regard. A 2012 Harvard study found that, in interpersonal conversations, people typically talk about themselves for a third of the time. Online, that number jumps to 80%. That’s largely because, on sites like Facebook and Twitter, people assume they are speaking to big audiences. Tête-à-tête, people closely monitor each other for empathy and understanding. Speaking to 1,000 people online, it’s impossible to discern what your followers are thinking. The focus naturally turns inward. – Derek Thompson
Social media have turned a species used to intimacy into performers. But these performances are not necessarily false. Personality is who we are in front of other people. The internet, which exposes our elastic personalities to larger and more diverse groups of people, reveals the upper and lower bounds of our capacity for empathy and cruelty, anxiety and confidence. – Derek Thompson
Daredevil behaviour in pursuit of likes, retweets and shares does not always have such a soft landing. The number of self-inflicted injuries and fatalities in the name of attention-seeking is growing: between 2014 and 2018 more than 200 people worldwide died while taking a selfie. In October 2018, Jon James, a Canadian rapper, fell to his death while filming himself on an aeroplane wing. Joanne Orlando, a researcher in technology and learning at Western Sydney University, blames the mechanics of social media which prize constant validation from others. Since people are more likely to comment on dynamic selfies than static ones, many are reluctant to upload anything that looks too ordinary…India is on the front line of selfie fervour: over half of the selfie-related deaths recorded since 2014 occurred there. The country’s ministry of railways now warns people to avoid taking selfies on the tracks; and Mumbai’s police force has identified 16 hotspots in the city where selfie-takers could put themselves in danger. – Chris Stokel-Walker
Excessive sharing and social media use is a double whammy for both the person posting and the person observing. For the person who compulsively shares every meal, every trip, every Uber ride, and every thought that passes through her head, there’s a dopamine hit in the brain signaling attention and reward for every like, share, and comment. This continues the cycle of oversharing and why a mild Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook user goes from posting once a week to 70 times a day…For the user, or the person observing, it’s a passive activity, one might think, and so it shouldn’t affect a person’s mental state much. But…it produces a kind of faux envy. Adults know Instagram isn’t real life — it’s all filters and posed shots. But still we wonder deep down: What if it is real? What if their life is really like that? – Nicole Russell
A view that I hold but can’t defend is that humans aren’t wired to see their reflection given there are no mirrors in nature, and that constantly seeing and taking photos of ourselves is a maladaptive behavior that’s going to have some kind of troubling repercussions down the line. – Whitney Cummings
Because of social media people don’t really have their own opinions any more. They have to sort of check what everybody else is saying. They wake up in the morning and they do a temperature check. “Is it okay to think like this today? Is it okay to like this? Oh, this is what everybody’s not liking? Okay, I’m going to ride with this.” So everybody wakes up in the morning and we wait for social media to tell us how to think and that’s whack. – Bill Maher and Charlamagne Tha God, from the show Real Time With Bill Maher, 01 Jun 2018
We’ve adapted our entire culture around Facebook. That makes “just quitting” easier said than done…The growing pressure that many people feel to abandon Facebook altogether fails to take into account both Facebook’s position in modern society and the stakes involved for anyone who chooses to leave a network that has spent more than a decade trying to make leaving it impossible. At this point, despite the enduring popularity of the #DeleteFacebook hashtag, “Why don’t you just delete Facebook” is the internet’s equivalent of asking, “Why didn’t they just leave before the hurricane came?” — because it vastly misrepresents how embedded Facebook is at every cultural turn most of us take, and deflects social responsibility away from Facebook onto the users who have been directly impacted by the company’s lack of accountability…Facebook has changed how we interact with our pasts, and how we interact with the places and people we call home. – Aja Romano