Consequences!

Consequences!

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Thanks to Silicon Valley – the big brother of mind control – we have unwittingly become professional addicts.  Take ‘bet you can’t eat just one’ Doritos – you don’t need pots and pans to cook, there’s no messy cleanup, you just open the bag and enjoy!  “And then we woke up many decades later and said, ‘Holy cow. This stuff was engineered to make us fat.’ It addicted us,” according to author Franklin Foer, whose new book  World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech was celebrated at the Kalorama home of Juleanna Glover and Christopher Reiter hosted by David Chavern (CEO, News Media Alliance) as we munched on pizza and yummy chicken nuggets …. no Doritos that we know of, but you get the point. 

Facebook, he claims, is the equivalent of Doritos: Addictive. “It’s cramped with the mental equivalent of sugar, salt, and fat. They take the inside of your mind and use it in order to give you the things that will give you the most pleasure or they’ll stir up anxiety within you because that anxiety means that you’re going to just keep coming back to their site. We’ve seen this with politics in the ways in which this is so not good for us. The ways in which we live within these filter bubbles that exist are actually tended to and cultivated by Facebook and by these companies where the politics that you’re getting, the information that you’re getting, confirms your fundamental biases and that it just simply makes you, makes our society writ large, susceptible to fake news, to propaganda, to demagoguery.”

In all fairness to Doritos, Foer doesn’t mention Doritos in his book but does metaphor food. “50 years ago, 60 years ago, there was the advent of all these processed foods – the television dinners. As a society, we thought that’s great. I showed my kids actually a documentary called Fed Up that Katie Couric did, which is about childhood obesity. It gives you a sense of the ways in which there are hidden forces in our marketplace in society that create products that are engineered to addict us. I tried to explain to them that technology is great in the way that food is great and nourishing, but it’s also created in a way that’s intended to addict you and that as a human being, you should try to find ways to use it to your advantage, take advantage of all the extraordinary things that are possible, while learning to appreciate it and to approach it with a safe sort of moderation. As human beings, we’re actually able to use moderation when it comes to food and it comes to drink. You think alcohol is tasty. Food is tasty, yet we don’t sit around and get to the bottom of the bag of Doritos, if you can help it, and we don’t get drunk every day, even though that might feel good in the moment.”

Book Synopsis: Over the past few decades there has been a revolution in terms of who controls knowledge and information. This rapid change has imperiled the way we think. Without pausing to consider the cost, the world has rushed to embrace the products and services of four titanic corporations. We shop with Amazon; socialize on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. These firms sell their efficiency and purport to make the world a better place, but what they have done instead is to enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience. As these companies have expanded, marketing themselves as champions of individuality and pluralism, their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation, and put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection—a world without mind. In order to restore our inner lives, we must avoid being co-opted by these gigantic companies, and understand the ideas that underpin their success.  Courtesy of the Publisher. WOW!

Franklin Foer and Juleanna Glover

Hollywood on the Potomac sat down with Foer to find out if robots are talking over the world, driving our cars, obliterating manufacturing jobs, cleaning our houses, delivering our orders, going out with us for date night, then what happens to us?  “We have to fight to preserve us. That’s what my book is about, that we can kind of accept the role, we can accept the dominance of tech and our displacement in the world as inevitable or as the fact of nature or we can try to shape our destiny as a species and preserve the things that we consider to be essential to the definition of humanity and the things that we are going to probably be happy to part with. Like self-driving cars, in my opinion, not such a bad thing. But I think it could be good if it exists in a proper system, but there are other things like the disappearance of privacy, for instance. I don’t think people understand. I think that it’s gone in that we tell machines things that we would never tell another human beings, and so all of our secrets are stashed out there. But I think there’s still a way to impose limits on what they have and what they can do with our information. In general, I feel like we grow up in this world where the stuff is magic. We suspend skepticism when we begin thinking about the tech companies and the technologies. My book is kind of a plea for people to at least ask the hard questions and to respond to the rise of these companies in the same sort of way that we would treat almost everything else in life.”

Franklin Foer

Subscribing to the theory that adapting to our environment and innovation is both a necessary and, in most circumstances, a great part of life, we wondered what the difference was between adapting to cars instead of horse and buggies, airplanes and other modern conveniences vs. today’s new technology.  “Maybe there isn’t actually a difference,” he told us. “So when cars came, they caused a lot of accidents. It was a lot of chaos. There was no system for dealing with them, and so we created stop signs. We created speed limits. We created safety belts and fuel efficiency regulations.” So why isn’t the future good?  “Well, right now, we’re not creating any of those rules. We’re really far at this stage from being at the place where we start to impose those sorts of rules. My fear is that we just wait until it’s too late to start to come up with a sensible ways of containing and regulating the technologies that could make our lives a lot better.” After mentioning the technology I was sticking in his face to get the interview on record he suggested it was addictive…..addictive technology that’s been engineered to addict people…constantly buzzing, trying to control us. They don’t want you to unnecessarily be cognizant of that fact. I want to ask you a very personal question, which is: Do you sleep with your phone?” Emphatic YES!  Foer doesn’t sleep with his phone because he hates to have his sleep interrupted by checking out his emails because the next thing you know, you’re “stuck in an endless scroll, and you’re not going back to bed. It’s not great.”

Kathy O’Hearn shares the latest news updates with friends

Foer went on to explain that there are all these companies that are in a race to become our personal assistant.  They want to wake us up in the morning and they want to stay with us all through the day. They want to have their boxes in our room, artificial intelligence in our conversation and in turn, suggesting where we go and what we buy. So really what’s happening is that there’s this outsourcing. We see it with our sense of direction: We rely on Google Maps or Waze. They have these devices in your house that you speak to and want to be in a conversation with you over the course of the day not just to do your calendar, but to offer you choices and to guide the ways in which you shop and consume entertainment.  “I have a theoretical objection to. I think it’s okay to have a personal assistant, but the problem is you get stuck in a system; it’s a Google system or an Amazon system. They’re trying to capture you so that it’s their entertainment system, their news and information system, their store that you’re all hooked into which means you just becomes more and more dependent on these platforms. The reason that I dislike Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, which are the subjects of my book, is not because that I think that they produce terrible products or that the world hasn’t benefited in may ways from the things that they’ve created. The problem that I have is that they’ve proven to be insensitive when it comes to incredibly important, incredibly central human things, including the media business. It’s connected to a way in which they’ve been insensitive to us as thinking creatures. We’ve always had technology. We’ve always tried to automate and mechanize various parts of the human body in order to make the world much more efficient. But these companies represent something that’s fundamentally different in human history because the processes that they’re trying to automate and mechanize are actually mental processes; they’re intellectual things that are in the process of being automated. These companies shape our reality. They stand between us and news and information. Between us and culture and knowledge, but they also are collecting this snapshot of us as they go along, which is data, that they know everything that you’ve read. They know everything that you’ve bought. They know who your friends are. They know, as a consequence of that, your religion, who you’re having an affair with, what way you vote. We confide in our machines much more than we confide in any of our best friends.”

He also pointed out that this information, this portrait that they have of you, is something that they use to engineer products that addict you, siting our phones. “I shudder to think about how many times I check my phone over the course of any given day. I bet that there’s a pretty large percentage of you in this room who sleep with your phone at night, and that is not an accident. It is conceived to exist in this sort of way because your phone is buzzing all the time. There are notifications that are trying to steal your attention constantly. If you’re in the journalism business, I’m afraid we’re not always the best actors because we’re dependent on these companies, and we try to exploit Facebook and Google in order to get traffic and revenue for ourselves. If you have good actors in journalism who are trying to exploit the inside of your head, it’s very easy to imagine that the world is simply filled with bad actors who are doing the same sort of thing. We’re starting right now to just barely awaken to these problems. We’re just starting to deal with it. It’s just dawning on us that these companies have become extremely powerful, not just in politics, but in our every day lives.”

Q and A with Franklin Foer

Foer does admit there’s much about these technologies that are, in fact, great and considers Google to be one of the most incredible things invented by human beings.  He just wants us to be aware of the dark side. “The dark side is that we’re not just merging with machines, we’re merging with the companies that run these machines, and so it’s their values that ultimately get thrust upon us, whether we realize it or not. So as we go through this process of merging with machines, as these machines become more integrated into our lives, my hope is that we think very consciously and thoughtfully about the architecture of human existence, about the things that we care most about and that we want to try to protect and preserve as we head into that future. It’s actually all related to media because it’s related to the quality of information that we get as citizens; it’s related to our ability to ponder; for citizens to be capable of actually pondering the important things in life, that as human beings we’re all capable of confronting the most serious and complicated choices. That’s what our democracy demands that we do every couple of years. In order to do that, you can’t have a world in which your attention is perpetually hijacked, where the people who produce the words and the videos that can inspire a thought and that can induce contemplation are being destroyed by these big technology companies. As I said, it’s a critique. I’m very, very tough on these companies, but I also hope that if you read my book, that you find it also to be a love letter to the human capacity for thought, to the institutions, and the world that nurtures that thought.”

En fin: Foer also mentioned media colleague Arianna Huffington’s latest venture: The recipe for getting a good night’s sleep.  Thanks Arianna, but we have the app for that!

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