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On Silicon Valley’s Commentary On Distraction

Second-level techies routinely discuss their Silicon Valley episode in major publications. RSS feeds are littered with them. “I was a programmer with Google/Facebook/Twitter, etc. and I’ve realized the great harm the technologies I’ve worked on have created.” It’s now in-vogue to join a rebellion, condemning services vying for people’s attention.

While not outright espousing some neo-luddism the technie writers will stereotypically praise meditation, nature, and a kind of being in the world without allusions to Heidegger. Their evil is three-syllables and typically SEO’d into the headline: Distraction.

The story is lukewarm but that doesn’t undermine its truth. Humanity is ensnared by its technologies: constant coruscaintg blips tempting like river nymphs. Of course, the nymph is dead and today’s cult gods are Akihabara anime girls and choose-your-own-adventure VR porn.

We’re all part of a cult that erects temples to stinging text messages, Instagram party pictures, Tweets from your enemies, scientifically unsound clickbait listicles, Imgur rabbit holes, made-up greentext, YouTube videos promising all the answers, bickering comments sections on articles nobody bothers to read, and typing in “Trump” to either keep the existential crisis burning or for a hearty laugh over the same morning routine.

All for the dopamine.

The sinister conspiracy underlying twenty-something’s wrist arthritis is that all the aforementioned platforms are designed to hold a captive audience. The more numbers, the more money. The higher their Alexa rating, the more advertising revenue. People aren’t people, their users, and the whole game orbits that always-fun-to-hate word, “profit.”

For those who believe they’ve revealed the stage for what it is, the natural reaction is to bang the pointer-finger against the state of tech. To say something superficially insightful like, “We are being strung along by technologies spiraling out of our control. There is nothing we can do to stop it. We are slaves to a process we created, one we can no longer comprehend. Can you make it to level-23 reality?”

No matter the time, people will do anything to strip off responsibility, to point to their nakedness as a sign of ineffable weakness. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent. Man blames the Stanford graduate working 60 hours a week at Google. Never looking to themselves, always looking to the other.

The reason being obvious. Criticism is a simple matter. Anybody can tear apart a concept and say, “Look at all these scars and flaws. How ugly! How awful! How ruinous!” They go on to proclaim that if only “X” was removed our problems would be solved. Socrates was killed but Athens still fell.

To be fair, the disenchanted techies do offer a solution. They tell us new paradigms are needed. Technologies need to be developed and reevaluated while catering to some utilitarian notion of people’s well-being, i.e. giving control back to people over how they interact with information systems. Their social idealism is admirable. But naive.

But it’s the kind of solution delivered at a TED conference to a round of gullible applause. The kind of sentiment Zuckerberg robotically recites to investors, and makes public so NPR can share a story saying, “Facebook cares.” I’m reminded of the call for capitalism to incorporate social wellness into its profit maxim to rectify cronyism and exploitation. A notion that doesn’t happen simply by proclamation.

It’s typical of people with grandiloquent ideas to propose changing the world by casting a spell with one swift gesture. That simply moving the puzzle pieces around will paint a picture worthy of being in a museum. Hence, the attraction of radical ideology.

In the real world, cultural changes are rough beasts: they slumber and stumble towards the future, rarely taking baths unless the world drowns. Practical advice is boring. (Just look at smart investing strategies.)

A new consciousness is needed to survive the trampling elephants of distraction technologies, one of individual awakening—a recognition of one’s own will and radical freedom. Do you not want to be distracted? Do you not want to feel a spectral convulsion climbing up your leg? Disconnect. Put your phone on silent. An answer so simple it’s stupid.’

The sixties revolution called for a radical awakening of a global consciousness, of oneness, of the common ties of human experience. Something achieved to a degree, heightened by universal communication. Anybody with at least average intelligence is less likely to play the us/them game—unless language creates the barrier.

Today’s solution lies in a similar awakening—though with less tarot mysticism. A reignited consciousness of individual will is needed to cope with an age that relegates people to analytics. To overcome distraction, individuals must overcome themselves—assert control over their lives.

The system isn’t the issue. It’s you.

Published in Blog


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