5, 6, 7 years ago, we all jumped collectively into the social media revolution, the new web 2.0 paradigm. We went off the deep end, without looking back. Clicking, poking, sharing, favoriting, tagging, liking, tweeting and retweeting like there was no tomorrow.
We swam and swam, til we lost sight of the shore. Who cares, we thought, this is so much fun, see how many likes Iâ€™m getting, Iâ€™m going viral!
But ever since then, the water has been slowly heating up, ever so slightly, day after day, poke after poke, tweet after tweet, like after like.
And we seem to be reaching the boiling point: If we don’t get out, there wonâ€™t be much left to save.
Online bullying, teen suicide, doxxing, swatting, open neo-nazi torch marches in the streets, and of course the psychopathic president of America, whose unhinged behaviour is threatening to actually wreak destruction on a large part of the world. We’re not scaremongering, said Thom Yorke. This is really happening. These things have the realest of consequences to us all.
The consequences to all layers of society have often been devastating. Prometheus brought us us the fire with which we’re burning down the world. Clearly we werenâ€™t ready. We werenâ€™t prepared, either to wield the fire or to deal with the charred results.
And only now we’re realizing that, OMG, it was all meant to be this way, that it was engineered. People like BJ Fogg, at Stanfordâ€™s Persuasive Technology Lab, inventing terms like Â«CaptologyÂ» (yes, really!) and applying mind techniques to keep humans hooked on new behaviours.
Now itâ€™s hitting home that these internet companies’ actual goal is, simply, growth. Unlimited, unconstrained, boundless growth. What else do we know that displays this kind of behaviour?â€¦
We know what happens when this growth reaches a certain threshold, when there is no more space for growth. We know what it does to the human body. We know what it does to social structures. We know what it does to the environment. Are we going to repeat history and devour until extinction? Until there is nothing more to consume? Because this time, it’s us, as a society and as a human species, that are the endangered ones.
We are the product. We are the fuel. We are the food.
We don’t know how to get out of this boiling pool. We don’t even know if we want to. But we also know we won’t survive if we stay.
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More reading on this
On the engineering of online addiction
Addicted to your Smartphone? This Formula is Why | WIRED
On the consequences of powerful tools we cannot control
What Itâ€™s Like to Be Targeted by an Online Mob | KQED Future of You | KQED Science
On the deleterious effects of social media
BBC – Future – What I learned by testing my stress levels on social media