WILL WE HAVE A DIGITAL MELTDOWN?
It goes without saying the western world has moved online. Western societies rapid shift into high modernity over the past three decades has changed the world in ways which no one could have imagined. So the question is, has the Internet changed our world for the good, or bad? Internet technologies have certainly made simple tasks easier, but at what cost? After 9/11 the United States government delved into a state of paranoia, the amount of classified documents collected by the NSA went from 8 million to 76million. The onslaught of online propaganda is causing a collective apathy and anxiety. However there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Internet, it’s how the Internet is being used which is the problem. In this essay I will explore how the use of Internet technologies are affecting our lives personally and collectively in detrimental ways. I will also be touching on notions of neoliberalism, happiness, propaganda and awareness.
‘After three thousand years of explosion, by means of frag-mentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding.’ (Mucluhan,1964)
For thousands of years human beings survived with very little, we lived in harsh conditions and hunted our food. Today we walk the same ground and breathe the same air as our ancestors but, now we hunt and gather information, and most of us wouldn’t have a clue how to live off the land. What I see when I look out into the world is an oppressed and anxious collective. We work long hours in offices, hunched over computers, to pay the bills on our mortgage. Does this type of lifestyle make you truly happy?
What I like to call ‘The happiness equation’ is an ideology crafted and passed down through western socio-economic organisations over the past several decades. This ideology exists in the illusion that money + power = happiness, and is constantly filtered through advertising commercials in all media platforms. As consumers switch mediums from print to online, viral marketing is now taking over social media.When you click an advertisement, that information is sent through to a data-collecting agency and then send back filtering information on your web browsers.
‘The propagandist naturally cannot reveal the true intentions of the principal for whom he acts….That would be to submit the projects to public discussion, to the scrutiny of public opinion, and thus to prevent their success….Propaganda must serve instead as a veil for such projects, masking true intention.’ (Chomsky, 1988)A leading intellectual of today, Noam Chomsky describes the use of propaganda as a tool for masking true intention. What are the true intentions of huge co-operations like Google and Facebook and the NSA? Your job is not to be a citizen, but to be a consumer.
‘Neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time- its refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit’ (Chomsky, 1999)
As described by Noam Chomsky in his 1999 publication Profit over People Neoliberalism is an approach to economics and social studies in which control of economic factors are shifted from the public sector to the private sector. Wealth disparity in the UK and the US is at an all time high,
‘Currently, the richest 85 people in the world posses as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the worlds population.’ (Pobjie, 2015)
A true democracy is grounded on principals of social equality. This secular ideology that neoliberalism inoculates is one of, if you are poor its your own fault.However some people in the world calling for change. In 2013 computer professional Edward Snowden released classified documents from the National Security Agency to the mainstream media. This began the debate on surveillance in the United States. The NSA was accused of collecting meta-data and intercepting phone calls and emails at a speed of sixty thousand per second. To put simply after 9/11 the NSA put procedures of intense surveillance over American and international citizens.
Glen Greenwood is a journalist who covered Snowden’s story in the 2014 documentary Citizen four by Laura Poitras. Later that year Greenwald appeared on TED ‘Why privacy matters’, into surveillance debate. ‘The United states and its partners unbeknownst to the entire world, has converted the internet, once heralded as an unprecedented tool of liberation and democratization, into an unprecedented zone of mass indiscriminate surveillance.’
Glenn discusses how the awareness of surveillance, changes our decisions and actions. ‘A system of mass surveillance suppresses our freedom.’But the NSA aren’t the only ones collecting data, marketing companies are now able to collect meta-data and use our information for viral marketing, this includes Facebook and Google.
‘With Google, and others of course, there is an immense amount of surveillance to try to obtain personal data about individuals and their habits and interactions and so on, to shape the way information is presented to them. They do more surveillance than the NSA.’ (Noam Chomsky, 2015)At the cost of being watched we still use the internet, not only that but we upload all kinds of personal information on social media. I personally spend more time speaking to people online than I do in reality. This act of communicating via social media creates a second self, a digital self. Facebook and Instagram allows users to essentially advertise themselves, some instagramers are even able to make a living just from their public profiles.
Documentary filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman created a film called Catfish in 2010. The film details Nev Schulmanas encounters with a young woman via Facebook, slowly the two become more involved in each other lives, when the two decide to meet, Nev realizes hes been fooled by her fake online profile. The documentary caused such a stir Nev created a series on MTV, following stores of potential catfishers all over America.
‘Dating is always a little awkward - now we have this new way of communicating that very much protects you, it’s a distance, or a buffer, between you and the person you potentially want to date.’ (Nev, 2013)Nev further discusses the importance of being savvy while online dating and communication with people you’ve never met. Catfish raised some awareness about the dangers of communication online, and the dark deceitful side of this second digital self.
What I found interesting about the catfish series, was that most of the time, the person behind the fake profile was awfully unhappy with their current situation. The fake profile was a way into a fantasy world that distracted them from the problems in their real life. ‘Personal meaninglessness- the feeling that life has nothing worthwhile to offer- becomes a fundamental psychic problem in circumstances of late modernity.’(Giddens, 1991) In one episode a young woman had over thirty fake profiles and was communicating with over a hundred men, its was almost as if she was addicted. Are we starting to replace real people for robots? Since online communications became naturalized, important ways of interacting have faded out. Social media has certainly made communicating easier, but has it made our lives better?
“By giving people the power to share, we're making the world more transparent.” (Mark Zuckerburg)
Facebook is a great platform for sharing information. However I’m afraid in reality its ruining our personal relationships. When we do get together with our friends and family, often our attention quickly goes straight back to what’s happening Social media. We are in the same room together sitting together, and on our phones together. How is making the world more clear?
Facebook is addictive that’s why we use it. Social media gives consumers instant gratification. The more instant gratification we get, the more we want. We’ve replaced human conversation for digital connection. Social media is removing us from the present moment, and separating us from each other.
Sherry Turkle author of ‘Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Spoke about the difference between connection and conversation in her 2012 Ted talk ‘Connected, but Alone.’ ‘People get so used to getting shortchanged out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they’ve become almost willing to dispense with people altogether. We’re designing technologies that give the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.’ In able for intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth we need to be able to express our thoughts and feelings through intimate face-to-face conversation. ‘The demand for intimacy is integral to the pure relationship, as a result of the mechanisms of trust which is presumes. It is hence a mistake to see the contemporary ‘search for intimacy’, as many social commentators have done, only as a negative reaction to a wider, more impersonal social universe.’(Giddens, 1991)
Online interaction is breeding a generation of socially inept people, we’ve lost the art of having a conversation, and we’ve forgotten what intimacy is.
With the naturalization of digital communication more and more people are going into computer based careers such as; graphic design, advertising and marketing, coding, application design, network security, etc..
‘In the new electric Age of Information and programmed production, commodities themselves assume more and more the character of information, although this trend appears mainly in the increasing advertising budget. Significantly, it is those com- modities that are most used in social communication, cigarettes, cosmetics, and soap
(cosmetic removers) that bear much of the burden of the upkeep of the media in general. As electric information levels rise, almost any kind of material will serve any kind of need or function, forcing the intellectual more and more into the role of social command and into the service of production.’ (Mcluhan, 1963)
Large Institutions like Google and NYU pay their employees much higher than the average wage. Other incentives include, a health plan, dental care plan, and free meals.A friend of mine who worked as a network security analyst for NYU told me all employees get forty paid sick days a year. Google has a program in place among employees called 80-20. The program allows employees to spend 80 percent of their time on work and 20 percent on their own creative projects. Why wouldn’t you want a job for a large institution with benefits like these?
Its no wonder why more and more people are opting for carreers at intelligence agencies. Last year Mark Zuckerburg’s net worth was 33.3 billion dollars, Google Ceo’s Larry Page and Sergery Bin just behind at 33.1 billion dollars. And the funny thing here is these men pay less of a percentage of tax than the 99 percent of us on the average wage.
Earlier I spoke of the growing wealth disparity in the UK and US, by means of neoliberal economics. The switch from public to private interest in the digital age has allowed a huge tip in the economic scales towards people like Zukkerburg. In a utopian world these companies (Facebook, Google etc..) would be taxed appropriately and these funds would go back into the public sector, but I suppose Money and Power equal happiness in this day and age so why bother.
‘We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.’ ( MCluhan, 1964 )
As Mcluhan describes in the 1964 publication understanding media and the extensions of man’ The internet isn’t inherently good or bad It’s a combination of socio-economic structures, propaganda and intense surveillance which is generating this global apathy and wealth disparity. The solution to this problem is awareness. Revolutionaries such as Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are the hero’s of the digital age. These men are aware of the power that information holds and use the Internet as a way of spreading the truth to the world.
But freedom of speech comes as a cost. Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowded are supposedly seeking exile in eastern Europe while Bradley manning remains in Prison.
The most worrying thing in my eyes is the replacement of intimacy for digital communication. Information is power, but it won’t bring you happiness. The only thing in life that will bring true fulfilment is love. Love for ourselves and love for one another, and I just don’t believe a machine can offer us this. If I get a computer, break it apart, then put it back together, it will work. If I take a person cut them up, then put them back together, they will not. This metaphor signifies the innate difference between machine and human being. What we need in the world today are more freedom speakers, people who are going to use the Internet for enlightening and inspiring others, instead of personal gain.