Our Lives Are Becoming Comfortable Illusions
Tech is exploiting our attention and disconnecting us from others, but it could also be the answer to humanity’s ills
We call rapid proliferation on the internet “going viral” for a reason: Ideas spread online exponentially, like viruses. Where viruses hijack our biology, viral memes hijack our minds. In both cases, problems arise when we can’t adapt quickly enough. Our systems get overwhelmed by the flood and eventually, we get sick.
As social, mobile, and other technologies go viral, core pillars of our society are crumbling. Big tech platforms have opened the back door to a billion minds with only one true goal: profit. It’s the perfect recipe for unintended consequences. The clearest example of this started in 2003, when a lonely Harvard student tried to engineer his way out of loneliness; just over a decade later, Facebook started accidentally breaking democratic elections. This is getting serious.
From social media to online shopping, from gaming to porn, there is a striking pattern in the emerging technologies we use the most: They simplify reality into comfortable illusions. It doesn’t seem to be a coordinated move by the tech giants. It’s just that technologies and businesses get traction when they simplify our lives, and they get even more traction when they oversimplify our lives.
Once you start to see this, you’ll see why it wreaks havoc on people’s minds: Reality isn’t simple. It’s complex and messy. Life is full of uncertainty so naturally we’re eager to flock to media where everything makes perfect sense in neat, rounded rectangles. It’s the reductionist blender. Take my life, break it into parts, and present it back to me as a comfortable illusion. It’s hard not to buy in, even when a part of me knows it isn’t real.
There is a striking pattern in the emerging technologies we use the most: They simplify reality into comfortable illusions.
Everything’s becoming a popularity contest, but who’s winning? We use social networks to cut the mystery and unpredictability from our relationships. We search for answers using personalized echo chambers that…