A man by the name of Mark Manson recently posted a great piece about how our technology today isn’t the cause for whatever problems we give it, rather, it’s simply there and we as humans react to it accordingly. It’s a super lengthy read by internet standards but it’s definitely worth the time as it discusses how we humans work, that the tools we create are just tools, and how we are the ones who dictate what those tools do, both as tools and to ourselves.
Modern technology isn’t changing us. It’s changing society. There’s a difference. One is how we are, and one is simply how we react every day to the world around us.
Ultimately, in summary, Manson explains that humanity always focuses its discussions on whatever is scarce, whether it be food, shelter, the best gadget in the world, or attention. We’re hardwired to be that way, so of course whatever we’re lacking becomes a primary concern (ie: the grocery store is out of fruit, what’ll we do?). When you consider today’s first-world lifestyle, we have easy enough access to food, shelter, work, medicine, travel, etc, and with our current technologies we have a plethora of resources for knowledge and information. We basically are all but limitless, and since information used to be our primary concern (but isn’t anymore!), attention has become the primary focus.
This is why today we are each bombarded with over 3,000 advertising messages per day. This is why these advertisements get zanier and more nonsensical — like the Geico gecko or the Old Spice guy — because the goal of advertisements is no longer information but simply attention.
He discusses the argument that many people believe that social media and the internet is a terrible thing, “making us all narcissistic and shallow… that it’s crapping on our ability to maintain meaningful relationships and therefore making us lonelier, and that it’s interfering with our ability to focus and get quote, unquote ‘more important shit’ done in our lives,” and how that’s all completely inaccurate.
What I’m saying is that the whole “the internet is ruining us” argument is a big whiff. It’s likely just the anxiety that’s always wrought by new technologies. When TV and radio were invented, people complained that everyone’s brain was going to go to mush. When the printing press was invented, people thought it was going to destroy our ability to speak eloquently. Complaints about the minds of children being ruined by technology are as old as technology itself.
It’s easy to blame the technology, blame everything but ourselves for the “problems” we face, yet ultimately it’s our choice to use it or, if you have to use it (for work or whatever), how it affects us. Technology didn’t force us to use its products (I have yet to see a tablet force itself into someone’s hands and “make” them use it), we chose, yet we still blame it because it’s an easy scapegoat whose mere existence makes it blameable. Throughout this blame game people tend to forget the good behind what they perceive as completely bad, and with technology today Manson further points out that we shouldn’t forget all the good that came out of these technologies.
We forget so easily what the whole point of all of this was in the first place: the availability of limitless and free knowledge. These benefits are so widespread and ubiquitous that we can’t even remember what it was like to not have them. And as a result, we overestimate how much these technologies are hurting us and underestimate how much they’re helping us.
Yes, the attention economy has come with new social challenges like identity theft and cyber bullying and assholes who text while they drive. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here.
And this is just the gist of what he wrote, there’s much more to consider! Go see his post in it’s lengthy glory to utilize the internet for its primary purpose of providing information at the click of a button: yes it’ll take a while to read BUT, considering it’s other sections including his discussion on how today’s way of life affects one’s focus (which you will need to get through it, ironically), it’s well worth the time. As for how our attention will eventually be sold, well, once you’ve read his piece you’ll have your answer.