REBELLION OF THE TITANS: HOW TO SOLVE THE “SOCIAL DILEMMA”?
AGAINST THE TECH GIANTS
We live in the Digital Revolution era when the ways of communication between people have changed beyond recognition. In just 20 years, digital technologies have completely transformed social and communication systems: they have created new patterns of behavior, provided us with new opportunities, made us geographically independent, and opened up access to the ocean of information accumulated by humanity.
There are no borders anymore: today, we can live in Germany, study and work in the UK or France; thanks to social networks, we can create global communities, meet and collaborate with people living on other continents, and even influence social processes. Social networks have become an integral part of our lives.
Increasing the speed of communication exchange allows us to solve tasks that previously took weeks or months in a short time, and this is undoubtedly one of the advantages of the digital environment. Among the other benefits are the ability to quickly call a taxi, order food at home, instantly pay for selected products, book plane tickets, etc. However, the digital environment also has its own “dark side”; even Silicon Valley representatives speak openly about it today. And they do not just speak, but also warn against the adverse effects of social platforms that are becoming an existential threat. Fake news, cyberbullying, like-addiction, manipulation of users ‘ psychology, and modeling their behavior, propaganda, cognitive decline, and increased depressive moods are just some of the “symptoms” diagnosed.
A Netflix movie called “The Social Dilemma” put all these issues on the agenda. Special attention should be paid to the fact that former presidents and engineers of such technological giants as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others took part in it. In other words, the people who were inside the system, her architects. They are not only rebelling against the parasitic business model of platforms, explaining this by rejecting its manipulative principles. What is surprising about this revolt is that it has an ethical basis.
The man who is now called the “conscience of Silicon Valley,” Tristan Harris, left Google precisely because of ethical principles. “Keeping in mind that Facebook and YouTube’s commanding the daily attention of more than two billion users for hours a day, a psychological footprint greater than the followers of the Christian church, technology has become the de facto information environment by our civilization makes sense of the world: what is real, and what is true. “ The Center for Humane Technology, where Harris operates (along with Asa Raskin, Randy Fernando, and Rebecca Lendl, who also participated in the film), advocates a world where technology will meet the interests of humanity, and not a small handful of “rulers” who have subordinated our behavior to algorithms of their platforms.
The largest social platforms compete for our attention. Their business model is based on the massive collection and processing of user behavior Data to generate advertising revenue. The users become a product, while their attention becomes a commodity. “This is a new kind of marketplace,” concludes Harvard business School Professor Shoshanna Zuboff, and this is a market where only human futures are traded. Just as there is a market that trades pork or oil futures, now we have a platform where human futures are traded on a large scale. And these sites have generated trillions of dollars.”
Yes, our time is being stolen and used without our knowledge. Yes, our attention, which has become a valuable resource, is captured by algorithms that predict and change our behavior. Yes, we consume fake news, useless content, advertising, and we are often subjected to manipulations. However, the problem is not in technology. It is not the race for our attention that should worry us. What is alarming is what we are willing to focus on and what we are eager to devote our time to. No matter how Facebook’s algorithms work, offering us a carefully adjusted news feed, the presence of a holistic worldview will put a powerful filter that will allow the user to separate useful content from empty and not get stuck for long hours in their smartphone. The only problem is that the modern man has no worldview, so it is easy to manipulate.
THE FORMATION OF THE WORLDVIEW: ARCHITECTS AND USERS
As technologies integrate into our lives, they have a gradual but irreversible impact on our way of thinking, behavioral patterns, and worldview formation. However, the question of worldview should be considered separately. Today, many people (especially generation Z) have lost the ability to focus on reading large texts. Reading both a 300-page book and a 5-page article becomes an equally overwhelming task for many people. Texts are no longer read; they are simply scanned. Wandering attention, clip thinking, lack of concentration, fragmentary perception of information — all this together leads to the fact that a person does not form a complete worldview model.
When people surf the Internet, they either surf by skimming the social media update feed or make a vague request and then dig through new pieces of information that they cannot integrate into their worldview. Research organization Nielsen Norman Group concluded that when a person views a web page, it scans it in the shape of an F. Thus, it reads no more than 20 % of the text. It begs disappointing conclusions.
Building a worldview is a complex and lengthy process. We often meet people who do not have any worldview. At best they have a particular set of opinions and fragmentary knowledge based on which they draw conclusions and make decisions — usually imposed by social media.
No worldview means that there is no internal axis, center, or reference point around which a separate world is formed. A person “just lives” and does not suspect that all the values, views, and desires were imposed on him.
The inability to cope with the giant flow of information, which today threatens to wash away truth from the face of the earth, condemns his to a chaotic capture, “pantophagy.” He does not know how to choose the most important thing from this inexhaustible stream, does not know how to distinguish the important from the secondary, full of meaning from complete nonsense. If he had a worldview, a particular coordinate system when approaching bookshelves or coming across a series of links and headlines in his news feed, he would instantly make the right decision: “take” or “reject.” To build your worldview, you need to be a good architect. And to do this, you need to stop being a user.
Social networks, in which modern people spend more and more time, do not contribute to making the right “architectural decisions” since their main task is to capture the user’s attention, and then sell it to advertisers. Shoshanna Zuboff draws a historical parallel with 19th-century English society, in which the aristocrats came up with only one name for those outside their circle — “lower classes.” Threw all who were not aristocrats into this broad anonymous category. “Similar situation with the users,” Zuboff emphasizes. For the creators of social networks, we are just “users.”
Information design guru Edward Tufte also opposes the term “users”:
“It has been said that the only 2 industries who refer to their customers ‘users’ are drug dealers and tech companies.”
Jaron Lanier, a philosopher and pioneer and publicizer of virtual-reality technology insists that if the current status quo persists for another two decades, we will destroy our civilization. Our worldview is shaped by algorithms for “behavior-modification empires,” as Lanier calls social networks.
Many representatives of Silicon Valley express their concern about the phenomenon of dependence on social networks. Thanks to their confessions, we know that it was one of the primary tasks of the creators of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube to cause this addiction. Tim Kendall, former Director of Facebook monetization, openly admits that at one time, he had to turn to the experience of the largest tobacco companies to understand the mechanism of causing the addiction. “At Facebook, I believe we sought to mine as much human attention as possible and turned it into historically unprecedented profits” It’s no secret that corporate employees received special training at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Now they show us the “dark side” of the digital environment, where a significant part of humanity has emigrated.
I want to repeat that in the “Social Dilemma,” what is striking is that the key figures who took an active part in creating social network empires revealed the secrets of its “dark” mechanisms while being guided by moral and ethical principles. Not every inventor who accidentally created a monster will find the courage to admit it.
But despite identifying the main symptoms and diagnosing the disease, the name of the drug was not mentioned in the film. Does this mean that it doesn’t exist?
The solution to this problem is neither deleting accounts from social networks (as Jaron Lanier advises) nor installing programs that block distractions, such as apps and notifications. The fact that we so quickly become victims of manipulation and become dependent on gadgets, through the “windows” of which we look into the “other world” indicates not the destructive impact of digital platforms, but our inner need to participate in something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to go beyond ourselves, but we did it before we could find ourselves. The digital revolution took place inside, and we are its initiators and victims.
THE MIND THAT CREATED THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION
The Digital Revolution, which caused a radical paradigm shift, according to the Italian writer A. Baricco, should be attributed not just to technological revolutions, but, above all, to spiritual revolutions. How can we not recall the method of Hans Sedlmayr, who considered the events of the 18th century due to what was initially born in the depths of the human spirit, as a kind of internal catastrophe, and only then expressed itself in history as the French revolution? And it is only through art that one can understand the path of this inner catastrophe: artistic phenomena are not just historical facts, but symptoms that make it possible to diagnose an entire epoch. Sedlmayr revealed that in the second half of the 18th century, artistic phenomena that had not previously appeared in world history emerged. It was a kind of evidence of the most profound spiritual upheavals experienced by humankind. He developed a method based on the belief that art is an instrument of profound interpretation of the epoch.
According to Baricco, the Digital Revolution was a movement almost automatic, a sharp turn of thinking. The entire digital world was the result of spiritual upheaval. And, like Sedlmayr, whose attention was focused on artistic phenomena that had never occurred before, Bariссo focuses on the analysis of the same phenomena, but in the field of virtual reality. It calls on us to find the mind that gave birth to the digital revolution, because it is in it, in this mind, that its original matrix is contained.
It is possible that until we find it, the social dilemma will remain unresolved.