As the digital zone has evolved, hope started to rise of a new kind of world order free of many of the ideologically based oppressions, which the gatekeepers of the old order represented. We are overjoyed when a simple one person show with a facebook account now has the power to bring down an ideological dictatorship. A lot of good has come out of the new digital landscape as it is easy to argue that as a whole humanity has become more understanding, accepting, politically correct, sensitive, and good to each other.
A wider array of perspectives is valued.
If there is anything to learn from the past century or two it’s awful things can happen when we lean on the idea of a utopia too hard and blindly accept misguided ideological visions of utopia. Dystopian fictions like 1984 and the Handmaids Tale have long served as timely reality checks, which have scared us enough to accept the dangers of blindly accepting utopian visions without checking the fine print. In recent years more of these stories have ended up on our screens as reminders of how technology, can come to dominate humanities ability to keep up with change, and its influence on us.
In case you are wondering yourself if you are a narcissist, or wondering how to deal with one at this stage check this out: Dealing with a Narcissist – with JP Sears (apparently before his funny video days
Social media has changed the way we interact and the pictures of people sitting around a table, all on their smartphones are not all photoshopped, but they are not any reason to suspect a coming dystopian doom. Blade Runner in 1982, The Terminator, and The Matrix movies are examples that show how technologies are overtaking humanity’s ability to cope with them, many of these can easily leave you with little hope, and the sense that is the technology at fault. Technology and digital media platforms because of the way they are set up are having profound effects on the way we interact with each other and how societies function. But we don’t need to accept that it is inherently the technology that is at fault because the technology in itself does not have an agenda, and is made by humans. The problems arise when the technology has been overlaid by narcissistic overlords in the form of self-centered business interests that monopolize and haunt the web. And yes, some of the ideology rubs off on us users, but not in the sense that we are clueless media illiterate dopes.
The scale of digital technology and social media platforms means the speed at which societal changes, influenced further by the narcissistic consumerist ideology of the gatekeepers, take place at an accelerating pace, and it’s easy to think users don’t have any control over the process. In social media classes, we are told we must use Facebook for employers to find us because this is how the world works now. We make our pages and the implication is that this is the natural order of things.
And when the medium is the message, and that medium is increasingly controlled by a few corporations dystopian fiction can cut too close to the current reality, and corner us into accepting the premise that we must all yield to the power of the almighty technological overlords.
Yet what is happening online in the digital zone is simply a reflection of what happens in the real world. In the bigger picture, I’m often gobsmacked when politicians and everyday people elevate the economy to the position of God. This seems like common sense and the natural order of things that if we are to have an economy, then obviously it exists to serve the people who live in it and not the other way around, otherwise, we end up living out some sort of 1984-style dystopian fiction. Somehow what seems the natural order has been inverted and this is what seems to happen with digital technology. On a bad day, it can seem like the world has jointly decided to give up and hand all authority over to Terminator 3, and let narcissism and hopelessness rule. My point of view here is that the technology itself is neutral and it is the interests involved that are dominating and determining.
The platforms and mediums that have helped empower diverse perspectives and forge a better future have become the next wave of oppression. The problems of the bigger picture, like the economy and its endless need for, exploitive, environmentally destructive, unsustainable growth at the expense of humanity has become the poltergeist in the machine. A supernatural beast that is hell-bent on profits at the expense of its users. When exploring the digital economy his premise is that has everything to do with the outdated, regulations and economic practices that date back centuries rather than anything to do with the nature of the technology itself. He explains how slowly over time digital corporations are extracting the booty out of the digital economy and leaving only the crumbs by using old-school monopolies and the like. The colonial-style scorched earth Walmart model of doing business through exploiting the community and destroying lives has carried over to the digital realm.
Digital Corporations are using us, the people like a resource in the old 19th century exploitative, the colonial model in the same ways, and the technology itself is not the problem. Like the banks leach wealth from the productive workers and business owners of society, and like technology is corrupted by the corporations that control it, the hearts and minds of real people are changed by the technology they use. And you don’t need to play a computer game designed to hook kids on sugary food for the effect to happen. But there is hope if we join the resistance and opt for sustainable options.
As Rushkoff says, we need a truly distributed digital economy that does not optimize human behavior for the benefit of the technology but a technology that is optimized to serve humanity. He gives some examples of humanity is losing out to companies like Uber, and Airbnb which are taking money off the table. The models are not sustainable and require endless growth otherwise their systems collapse. an example of an alternative to Uber is the cooperative Go Juno service. When I set up this business we chose to use open source software instead of the Adobe versions which are outrageously expensive and like a tax on their users. I would much rather donate to a cooperative community than contribute to some fat cat’s retirement who is skimming a few little each day off the productive digital businesses and workers.
Douglas Rushkoff talks about this in his book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” which examines how the digital economy is failing us. Here he is at a TED event talking about it.
Having run an affiliate marketing website for some years I have noticed things seem to get progressively more difficult. Times are getting tougher and the digital realm is not the only area. But we are not the only ones and many young people are living out a kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction. I recently wrote a 30-page essay on how banks are extracting wealth from the economy which has spawned a whole new van life generation of millennials who have been forced out of the housing market, but millennials face a much bigger problem in the ideologically laced technology which is occupying their brains and making them more narcissistic. These are gross generalizations of course but there is evidence of how technology makes us, increasingly narcissistic which I will get to.
When I think of this topic I come to it with a bit of baggage, and I’m a little sensitive because, despite my age, I tend to identify with the millennial generation and I have also run a YouTube site where I have posted lots of videos of my life. We are often told in the media how one study or another has found that the levels of narcissism in the “me me me” generation have once again exceeded previous high levels, even higher than when Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation was published in Time Magazine. The inference was there for all to see that a big part of the reason millennials had become more narcissistic was that the influence of social media and the digital environment was having.
A common argument for most of societies’ ills has been political correctness. Arguments tend to blame teachers and parents who allow kids to get prizes for simply running in the race for fear of damaging their self-esteem. A similar complaint was that kids got marked correct even if their answers were wrong, and this was all part of a conspiracy of the elites and their self-esteem agenda. Had political correctness and self-esteem really replaced the imperative of truth and an authoritative hierarchy? When your truth is as good as my truth, in a relativist/pluralist world do things matter anymore and what are the implications for the online digital environment? What many critics argued successfully was that increasing self-esteem regardless of achievement, also increased narcissism and post-truth nihilism.
What happens in the real world happens in the digital zone, and the platforms that promised to free us all from oppression have actually turned against us. This happened not because of the technology itself, but in a deployment style that inverted political correctness to mean all opinions are equal and did away with its higher intentions. Now when you enter a search term you are less likely to receive back a plurality of responses, but instead, more extreme responses are ordered by popularity, and you are more likely to click on the response that you already agreed with.
The argument is that this lack of hierarchy had implications in creating a digital landscape where selfies, self-promotion, echo chambers, hatred, xenophobia bigoted beliefs, and all the other charming attributes we now associate with the digital environment have credence. A progress-enabling digital technology landscape has yet failed to emerge and the utopia that was once promised and began to emerge has in many ways collapsed. The digital world is now known for its polarized state where the user is forced to click this way or that to confirm their existing bios, as we corporately regress to the point where Donald Trump is “the leader of the free world”.
How did we get here:
Before we move into more depth the topic of narcissism let’s have a little review:
I agree with Rushkoff in that technology is not to blame for the flaws of the outdated economic system that has become the enemy of a distributed nonexploitative environment. And while there is not anything native to the technology which corrupts there remains this poltergeist in the machine. We are not on some socialist anti-capitalist rant here but we need to acknowledge some scary stuff happens to technology when it is partnered with the devil. I should say that companies like Google tweak their practices in order to devour an ever larger piece of the pie.
Ken Wilber argues in Truth in a Post-Trump World that digital exchanges in the online world are tinted by the effect of the lack of leadership in the progressive “leading edge”. He lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Relativist / Pluralist cultural elites for falling into the trap of becoming ever more politically correct instead of providing an environment where the less evolved among us could evolve. The big limitations of a relativist/ pluralist belief system are that it asserts what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me but at the same time does not allow any other perspectives but it excludes them. Many of the “deplorable” see this as a stumbling block, and if you look analytically at his campaign hs attract on this progressive “leading edge” is the stand-out feature that took him to victory. Then the digital interactions become a landscape where “the mores” and guides that society has established over time are not there when the algorithm is asking us to choose between the two most extreme, popular options which often lead us down the evolutionary slope.
The good part of this leading edge is how it is inclusive to the point of starting wonderful movements like civil rights and environmentalism. The problem is when it all goes too far and we start judging and blaming the “deplorables” as Hillary Clinton did. These are the people who were told they were equal but did not see this reflected in their economic reality and voted for Trump. Then Ken Wilber believes that much like you don’t judge and look down on children because of the phase of growth they are going through, a similar thing happens with society as a whole. It’s kind of like when the mum and dad progressive leading edge get it together the kids will stop acting out. But more than this Wilber sees the exploitative phenomenon that is happening with the digital zones as expressly facilitating much of the polarisation, nihilism, and narcissism with is having more widespread societal implications.
One sense that Wilber believes if the progressive “leading edge” were to get its act together, the digital landscape itself would start to show more of the utopian characteristics we were promised. Only when enough of us emerge to mum and dad, progressive leading edge evolutionary stages and beyond will we have the ability the overcome the colonial style oppression which continues and is active as the poltergeist in the machine Search engine algorithms would promote the good, the true and the beautiful and social media users would seek out more perspective, leading to a better grasp of “the truth”. I tend to agree with his view that there are universal truths, and instead of aggressively attacking those who hold progressive “leading edge” views as Trump has done, or seeking out ever more ways to get offended by wayward political correctness.
We simply need to sit back and see the merits of each other’s points of view. But importantly get to work on building a resistance. Personally, I will continue to use my open-source software and look at how I can use permaculture and sustainable practices in every area of my life.