Do We Need to Escape This Internet Matrix or Adapt?

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By – Suhasi Khanna

There are millions of tweets, posts and stories urging people to watch the new Netflix’s documentary drama The Social Dilemma by Jeff Orlowski, which if you think about it, killed the whole irony of the documentary itself.

The documentary’s main message was not something that most of us aren’t already aware of but what made it so special and a wakeup call is the fact that the information is coming from the people who have worked in the tech industry or somewhat contributed in making the internet as it is now. This blog will discuss two theories: The social dilemma and the anti­social dilemma.

The Social Dilemma

If you ask people, what is the problem with the tech industry? You’d get various answers like fake news, stealing data, tech addictions, election hacking or scandals but is there one basic source for all these problems? The business models sell certainty for which they need great predictions. These predictions require a lot of data. The tech giants collect the data from us, the users, by tracking what we do online, when we do it, for how long you do it and the reasons behind our behaviour. All this data is fed to the system to predict our future actions. The most accurate model that predicts our future actions­ wins.
One of my favorite quotes from the documentary is,

“If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.
It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.”

because at the end of the day the main motive of every business model is profit making. So how does this trillion­dollar industry make money when they don’t sell us anything or provide ‘free’ services? One of their main sources of revenue are advertisements. The advertising companies pay them to show us their advertisements. So, the more screen time we have, the more advertisements will end up in our feeds, thus, increasing their revenue. The tech giants have three major goals ­ engagement goals, growth goals and advertisement goals.

Social media was introduced just as a tool, similar to a bicycle or a screwdriver. But there wasn’t any havoc about it, so what is the thing that makes it different? A tool is just a tool as long as it helps us whenever and in whatever way we need them to and sits in a place when not required. But social media is becoming addictive and manipulative once we start to use it. The itch in our hands to pick up our phones when a notification pings is an example of how addicted we really
are to them or how we keep our gazes locked on the screen when it shows that our friend is ‘typing’ so that we don’t lose our focus from the screen.

Gen Z is the first generation that got access to social media in middle school. This has had a large impact on their physical and mental health or lives in general. The whole generation is more anxious, more fragile and more depressed because of the exposure to this vast space where they judge their self worth, identity and social approval online. The perceived sense of perfection has totally changed. The cases of anxiety, depression, self­harm and suicides have risen tremendously. They are less comfortable in taking risks or dealing with the real world. When we feel uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is weakening our own ability to deal with these emotions.

The scary question is, if this is the last generation of people who knows what it looks like before the illusion or AI or whatever you want to name it takes over. The line between a truth and a lie is so faded at this point, that we don’t know what is the truth or even if there is a thing called truth anymore. Different people have different truths, because they are exposed to different information by the algorithms. The algorithms are controlled by large supercomputers or systems with no human supervision, that is enough to make one wonder, how can they tell what’s right and what’s wrong. The flow of misinformation is so rapid that it has become so much easier to convince people about anything with the help of the loopholes and the rabbit holes that the algorithms create.

It’s ironic that humans who put more value on a dead tree than an alive one, more value on a dead whale than an alive one or mine earth to extract oil are now in a situation where they are the tree or the whale and their attention is being mined.

The Anti­Social Dilemma

We are aware of the effect of the internet in our personal lives and our society as a whole, but is there even a way back now? How can you put the genie back in the lamp? The bigger it gets, the harder it gets to change it. During this current global pandemic when everyone is stuck at homes, what choice do we have apart from turning towards technology for all our social needs. Most of our work is online now, the only way to socialise is online, the teaching and learning is online and even the entertainment is online. So, what choice does a person have? Is there even a choice? Are we hoping for a utopia, to go back to the time where there was no internet or social media and the world worked like that? But it’s so late to turn our backs now after such an advancement of technology, that there is no other way rather than to learn to live and strike a balance with it. I read somewhere that the only way to protect ourselves is to be in a coma, a prolonged state of unconsciousness because even when we are sleeping, we are providing data to the companies that track sleeping patterns.

How to get out of this labyrinth?

There is no one single way out of this matrix. How can you even expect to wake up from a matrix, when you don’t even realise you’re in a matrix? No Neo is coming to save us. We have to keep ourselves safe in every small or minute way we can. There needs to be certain laws, rules and regulations that govern and protect the data. This privatisation of data is concentrating too much power for a few tech giants to hold. The platforms need to take responsibility because when their tools are being misused, they’ll have to take responsibility. We, as users, need to get out of our echo chambers. For that, follow people you disagree with, question what you see or fact check twice before forming perspectives. There are chrome extensions that remove recommendations. Time budget your screen time as much as possible. No matter what you believe in, being precautious is always helpful.

“Computer is the most powerful tool we have come up with. It is like a bicycle for one’s mind”.

               ~Steve Jobs

(as long as the bicycle doesn’t run on its own or forces its own opinions on you!)
Must Read: Social Media and its Effects

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The content writing domain consists of passionate and creative change-makers who are willing to create a difference in society through their writings and blogs. They write on a range of topics from India to the world and beyond. The team also helps in a range of write-ups and content required for the SKCF webpage and events.

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