Walking through a park in Edinburgh recently I came across a scene which made me feel like I’d landed in a Zombie Apocalypse. Surrounded by trees, a loch full of swans, ducks quacking and dappled sunlight cascading through brilliant green leaves, I felt a tremor of fear.
Staring at screens
To the left of me a couple sat on a bench both staring at their screens. To the right, a mother stood mid-path seemingly oblivious to her child and her unwitting initiation of them, into this global pandemic. Beside the loch two friends stood side by side, heads down, screens in hand, no conversation. Another zombie stood glued to the spot totally unaware that I wished to pass. Had I walked into some horror movie or a weird episode of Dr Who? It certainly felt like it.
The uncomfortable truth
Everyone appeared to be under the control of an “other”, the little devise which promises so much but takes a zillion times more. Really Mairi, isn’t that a bit extreme? No, it’s not. It’s actually the uncomfortable truth. Every time we bow our head to the tyranny of the screen we are engaging with what the “other” wants of us. It could be a response on social media, an email that needs a reply or a request for an up-date. They are all generated elsewhere and through the use of clever alerts and notifications, create our pavlovian like responses. We are being controlled and entering the zombie apocalypse.
The shock of twentieth-century technology numbed our brains and we are just beginning to notice the spiritual and social debris that our technology has strewn about us.
I know we like to believe that we are all free thinkers, individuals who choose for ourselves, thank you very much. Sadly I fear not, not anymore. The insidious little device in our pocket tells a whole other story.
The Zombie Apocalypse is in evidence everywhere we go. Trains where no-one talks any more, buses, bars, cafes, even our own sitting rooms, you name it; there they are, there we are, heads down, future neck problems pending, engrossed in what?
We are consumed by the internet and what it delivers straight into our hands. Dangling on the end of this electronic string we are funnelled down rabbit holes, directing us places we never intended to go. The persuasion techniques are incredible and far more sophisticated than our individual human minds are designed to cope with. Addicted to the dopamine hits we crave, we watch what they want us to watch, buy what they want us to buy and even thinking how they want us to think.
“The “like” feature evolved to become the foundation on which facebook rebuilt itself from fun amusement… to a digital slot machine that began to dominate it’s users time and attention. This button introduced a rich new stream of social approval indicators that arrive in an unpredictable fashion – creating an almost impossible appealing impulse to keep checking your account………allowing their machine-learning algorithms to digest your humanity. Not surprisingly, almost every other successful social media platform soon followed.”
Architecture of persuasion
The manipulation is extraordinary, the possibilities for ill use endless. Even if you believe you are immune, somehow beating the system, I urge you to think again. Explore further what has been created and how it uses you, rather than you using it.
Zeynep Tufekci a writer and professor tells us how the structures and business models we’ve created are of great concern. This architecture of persuasion organises how we function and controls what we can and cannot do. The competition for our attention is fierce and the race to gain it relentless.
There is an app for everything now, more evidence of the zombie apocalypse. We no longer have to think, decide, consider, reflect or question; everything is already pre-programmed for us. Algorithms mine our online information to influence where we go, how we get there, what we listen to on the way, what see once there and of course who we tell.
There is virtually no space or time for our rational, thinking minds to work anymore. Our one real human life is being gobbled up managing an on-line existence. We disappear onto cyber-space for hours only to emerge later in a zombie-like stupor, wondering what happened and where all the time went.
“The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?”
I know my choices are not all conscious, are yours? Despite my best efforts to gain more insight and understanding I still have to face that uncomfortable truth. Most of what I have just read, listened to or seen adds little, if any, significant value to my real life. What it does is it disconnects me from others, from myself and from our beautiful living earth. Oh, and perhaps worst of all, it devours my limited time.
Yet the lure into this land of Zombies is powerful and persuasive. I get caught up in thinking that maybe there is something interesting going on that I need to know about, something I might miss out on, something that will somehow magically be the answer to everything. However when I come back up for air and re-engage with life here on planet earth, I realise what a fool I’ve been. I’ve spent much of my precious time in there, again. I got locked into programmes and algorithms promising things they do not deliver.
It’s not just this manipulation at an individual level that alarms me. How this translates collectively is of great concern to me. We are not separate individuals whose small actions don’t matter, we are part of an incredibly intricate eco-system where those actions add up to global effects.
These global effects can be massive.
We face a climate and ecological emergency. Predicted for decades and largely ignored by our industrial growth economies and Governments, it is upon us all now. The future looks grim. Extinction Rebellion and other similar organisations are inviting us to rebel for the sake of life on earth. The greatest revolution of our times is under way and they want us to join in. First we need to wake up.
We have to shake off the zombie trance we unwittingly walked into and reclaim our minds and hearts from this insidiousness. We can learn to use the extraordinary capabilities of the internet for the power of good. Our collective intelligence is enormous, our power-with immense. Awakened and united in a quest to rescue our planet we could be unstoppable.
It is my hope that we come to understand this. My desire is to see us face the truth about our zombie like existence and decide to take back our lives, our communities and our planet.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing”
If you are curious, concerned and care about the future of our planet, get informed. Here are some places to start:
Digital Minimalism, choosing a focused life in a noisy world by Cal Newport
The Power of Off by Nancy Collier
Why you should delete your social media accounts – Jaron Lanier
We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads – Zeynep Tufekci
Feel Good Live More – How social media could be making you ill, with Cal Newport
Insights at the Edge – Waking Up from Our Addiction to Technology, with Nancy Colier
TED Radio Hour – Do our devices control more than we think, with Tristan Harris
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