When I say, ’we’, I don’t mean ‘we’ as in our mobile phones, our laptops, Alexa, or the other myriad of connected devices currently consuming our consciousness. I mean ‘we’ as in us, our minds, our very essence as human beings.
And I’m aware how ‘go hug a tree’ this already sounds but hear me out. Our very attention, our awareness even, has at this point, been manufactured into a product, the mobile phones, the laptops, the Alexa’s of the world are merely just the vehicles driving the change.
And for those of you still thinking I should go hug a tree, perhaps the opinion of Tristan Harris might be a little more convincing. Tristan is an ex-Google employee, and if you watched The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix, that’s probably where you’d recognise him from – great watch if you haven’t already.
Tristan is also co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology and co-host of the ‘Your Undivided Attention’ podcast. Rolling Stone mag also named him one of ‘25 People Shaping the World’ and was named in Fortune’s 40 under 40 of 2018 for his work on reforming technology. So yeah, he knows a thing or two.
Tristan appeared on Russell Brand’s latest podcast titled, ‘The War for Your Consciousness’ and that is exactly what it is.
On the podcast Tristan discusses the Netflix documentary, wherein Justin Rosenstein (the inventor of the “like” button) says, ‘this is the product of a runaway economic logic’ and uses the analogy that, so long as a whale is worth more dead than alive, and that tree I should be hugging is worth more as a pile of two by fours than as a tree, we are now both the whale, and the tree.
Our mind is the very thing being strip mined for profit. At one point, these companies actually ran out of attention to monetise, so they figured out how to essentially triple the size of the attention economy, by getting us to focus on two or three screens at once.
Multiple screens have us multi-tasking, meaning thinner and thinner slices of our attention are for sale. It’s basically mind fracking. And that runaway extractive model, so Tristan says, might, for the first time, be the thing that helps wake us up to the fact this logic is unsustainable.
But, what happens when we go from being the customer to being the product ourselves? Well, much like the whale being worth more dead than it is alive, and the tree being worth more cut into two by fours than it is a tree, rather than a pile of planks, our consciousness is worth more when it is turned into dead slabs of human behaviour, predictable, human behaviour.
This is because the premise of surveillance capitalism, is that this technology has to get better and better at predicting our next move, until technology knows our weaknesses better than we know ourselves. These companies now have the ability to hijack our nervous systems and ultimately, our deepest psychological needs.
And, the worst part is, no one meant for this to happen. All these seemingly nefarious techniques are simply just these companies racing each other to the bottom of the brain stem, which, unfortunately as Tristan puts it, also happens to be the backdoor to the human soul. And if that isn’t some eye-opening food for thought, I don’t know what is.
This editorial originally appeared in the Data Centre Review Newsletter August 13th, 2021. To ensure you receive these editorials direct to your inbox, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.