This book did not come to my attention as a recommendation in another book or by a friend or favorite author. I was instantaneously drawn to it when I first laid eyes on it on my Goodreads feed and I had to get it and read it immediately.
I have been weaning myself off social media for over a year now. I was aware of the negativity swirling around and the deep feelings of sadness, depression, nihilism that bubble within my chest every single day as I join the masses in our one-finger marathon of swiping the glass display of our late model smartphones. I was, and still, am getting the constant feeling that I am being poisoned and that something needs to be done about it.
The well-structured arguments in this brilliant book put it all in perspective for me and it helped me shed light on how the massive social media companies are mainly dependent on a predatory business model which is exploiting their user base as products to be packaged in behavior modification programming tools to be sold to special interests groups. Those “advertisers” who bid for this unfathomably effective influence machine over millions of humans are the actual and true clients for the social media conglomerates.
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to be aware and to not be beholden to a life of serfdom under the brainwashing influence of unknown third-parties. This is the new wraith of the post-internet information age where billions of people are lured into “free for all” services by multi-billion-dollar businesses which are actually selling a new form of addiction to the masses. The addictive behavior engineered by brilliant technologists into their applications and services serves as a honey-pot for users who pour in massive amounts of personal data which is then analyzed and aggregated into powerful statistical models that define the users’ every taste and influence. The next step of what the book calls “Surveillance Capitalism” was to cater to such users personalized and tailored content. The statistically significant models then calculate the most effective timing to place a “product” in your “feed” that has the highest probability to sway your choices in the direction of buying and consuming. With terms like “cross-sales,” “retargeting” and other brilliant methods of mass-influence offered to the clients, your attention can be bombarded from different angles, on multiple social media platforms at the same time. Plenty of people have gotten rich from what is now called “Social Media Marketing Agencies” and other who have gotten even more rich by teaching these techniques to others. But it goes beyond changing your preference of soap or making you purchase an overpriced knockoff luxury watch off AliBaba. Your attention has been weaponized against you in the most powerful and most potent of all addictions known to mankind. If you’re on social media, you are literally prey waiting for the next savvy “marketer” to program you to like or believe whatever they want through the most powerful behavior modification algorithms known to mankind. It’s brainwashing for the masses, the dream of every leader, government and despotic regime since the dawn of history. Behavior modification empires where every single individual is monitored and assessed round the clock and then fed dynamically optimized stimuli in the form of “content” or “ad” engineered to perfection to guarantee “engagement.” Unfathomable power you can rent for the right price. It’s a brilliant business model.
The main thing to understand is that this is not a conspiracy theory sort of book, on the contrary, it actually pleads the case for the current situation simply as a business model gone awry. Business follows money, plain and simple. Chasing dollars, power and influence is basic human nature. No one was thinking of ways to conquer the world and enslave billions of people through the magic of the networking effect of the internet. It sort of happens all by itself as any group of entrepreneurs figure out an empty space where there would be a possible monopoly and great wealth.
The biggest businesses of the human civilization have all been fueled by catering addiction to the masses. Where a smart group of individuals discover there is a hidden massive demand for some product for which they can only be the sole provider, there and then fortunes get made. Think about al the great products and services of the world which started as monopolies and granted their purveyors massive fortunes: Petroleum Oil, Sugar, Cotton, Grains, Banana, Coffee, Cocoa, Avocado, Wine, Marine Shipping, Air Travel, Gold, Whale Oil, Debt Financing, Hotels, Casinos, Real Estate Development, etc.
All the great businessmen of the world would tell you the biggest profit is hidden in a space that hasn’t been prospected by anyone else. For once all these commodities and businesses make their pioneers great wealth, soon imitators and copycats will always jump in and provide competition until all profits are squeezed out of it and you’re locked into a fight for survival and cost-cutting marathon to shave off whatever you can get away with from your overhead.
We have Edward Bernays to thank for our current state of affairs regarding “attention” as a product and “behavior modification” as a commercial influence service for hire. Edward Bernays, the man who during WWII coined the term “Psychological Warfare” when he was working for the US government, was the father of propaganda and public relations and his consulting firm was the main force behind converting the American public into consumerism. Using the ideas from the research of his uncle “Sigmund Freud” he managed to actually create the massive industry of “public relations” and ran massive campaigns for the biggest corporations in the US. One of his notable early successes was making smoking cool for women who were not into smoking cigarettes before Bernays used his genius to make millions of women loyal smokers. For more insights into the subject, please watch the documentary “Century of The Self.”
The internet became a natural new space for advertisers and companies interested in increasing their sales. It sort of had to happen. The basic function of the social media world was simply to connect people together. Once they hit exponential growth, anyone with half a brain would try to exploit such a massive fertile market for financial gains. Ads were the easiest and first way to make money and with success, the money poured in and with it infinite funds were made available to optimize the process to make all the more lucrative, hence, the world we’re at right now.
This book is quite the eye-opener. You realize quite effectively that you are a product. You are being manipulated on a daily basis by programmed Algorithms that tailor your every post and every ad placed before your eyes for maximum “engagement.” It feeds you fear and rage and falsehoods. It monitors your every like and comment. It calculates the best time to place an ad for you to maximize the probability of you making a purchase and the type of controversial content to be released to you to guarantee your engagement. Social media is not biased to the left or right. It’s not leftist or conservative, not democratic or republican, not pro or con any argument or any ideology. Social media is only aiming downward at your baser instincts and deepest fears. The content you are made to consume is engineered to guarantee a visceral reaction of extreme rage, sadness, disgust, where you are involuntarily driven to express these feelings through your likes and shares and opinion op ed pieces. Your opinions are then marketed and fed to those who think the exact opposite of what you believe to induce an adverse reaction just as powerful and that swirling tornado of rage and anger and lashing out at people, public figures, political events, human atrocities, and the rest of it is the fuel that keeps the machine running. Your emotions are being triggered on a constant basis and you are being handled like a helpless puppet by masterul puppeteers. And although social media companies do make the argument that they couldn’t have known it and whether you believe them or not, they do sell that mass behavioral modification machine as a service not only to advertisers but to political influence consultancies and government intelligence agencies. The scandals around Cambridge Alanytica and The Russian interference in the 2016 US Elections are glaring case studies on how millions of people were swayed to make political choices that were to define the political space and thus the future of entire nations.
Your usage data is the most valued product and commodity on the face of the earth in this time and age and you are giving it away for free. With it, you are also submitting your beliefs, your free will, your economical prospects, your emotional responses, and your sanity.
The byproduct of being part of this massive apparatus is that a perpetual feeling of nihilism, worthlessness, depression, and a new form of slavery fed by the strongest and most potent form of addiction engineered by geniuses who can use every knowledge of human psychological needs and the modern techniques of behavioral modification to suck you in and keep you locked in forever. It is literally impossible to transfer your history of experiences on a certain platform to another. You can’t just choose to keep a copy of it and let go of the platform. Your attachment to the platform through the years of usage and personal history logged to the day, which you can search through at will, gives off the illusion that you can’t sever ties with the platform and release yourself.
The analogy with the world of “The Matrix” is staring you in the face. You are stuck in a prison for your own mind from which there is no escape unless you can somehow understand that there is a reality beyond which the Matrix is feeding you. This book is the “Red Pill.”
The book is quite full of hope that we all can become part of the answer, but only through awareness. Your pocket computer which was once perceived as your gateway to unlimited freedom and communication is now the same instrument used to imprison you in a world where your thoughts are never your own.
No one can tell you how you can survive in a world without any social media access, this book isn’t telling you to shun it forever, despite the title. I will, however, shine a light on my own approach to break free from the addiction, as a person who has a long history of success in fighting my own addictions. maybe it would be useful to you somehow.
When I started feeling like I was being poisoned by the rollercoaster of rage and disgust I had to do something. Putting it all in perspective, I was present during the Arab Spring and the Revolution that started as a Facebook event, of all things. Once the euphoria has subsided, in hindsight, it was predestined to experience the ensuing end for the honeymoon of common human decency shared between complete strangers knitted together through the virtual world of social media. The world was suddenly a hunting ground for mobs, fake news, fake users, rage and polarization that wreaked havoc on everyone involved. Actually, 9 years now since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution, it is a common knowledge that certain influencers and social media figures have literally lost their minds and turned into paranoid and insane individuals who are mourned by their followers and ridiculed by their adversaries. It’s a sad sight.
My antidote was to shut it all down and use the algorithms to my advantage, so to speak. I went through weeks of mass unfollowing and unfriending towards all news sites and pages and any individuals who were wrapped up in politics. Then I did the same to anything contributing to negativity or cynicism. Then I made a point to go on a social media fasting and then a digital fasting for a few months. It wasn’t easy. But that’s the only way to get off such powerful addictions. You need to prioritize your own sanity and leave the herd.
The funny thing is that after a number of years of running this experiment, I recently tried to follow back a selected few of the people I like the most online, mostly friends and people of like-minded intellect, but the algorithms are already locked in my behavioral patterns over the past few years. My newsfeed is the same, not showing me any controversial content and it is quite peaceful. LOL! Go figure!
The book touches on other deeper issues of individuality, religion and spirituality. Silicon Valley technologists are in effect promoting information as the new religion in this world and promoted the fictitious AI “Singularity” as its new God Almighty.
Several key Silicon Valley Investors and technologists share the author Jaron Lanier’s views that AI is overhyped and the glorification of its all encompassing power over every aspect of our lives is promoted by Science Fiction more than by a true understanding of what it means. AI as portrayed in movies is a sort of Artificial General Intelligence that is capable of reasoning. The majority of people who are actually involved in the programming of AI machines tell us that it’s hundred of years in the future if at all possible. The most of what we’re capable of right now is simple task-specific narrow intelligence that is fed by large data sets and Statistical models that mimic intelligence.
So, rest assured, humans still are way superior to computers in the world of general intelligence and we reign supreme.
And if we were to develop a Super General Intelligence AI, we wouldn’t need to worry about it. Because it will then possess way higher levels of cognition we wouldn’t be able to understand how it would be a threat to us. Forget the “Terminator” it would be much much worse. 😁
The simple takeaway is be aware. Know what this portable supercomputer in your pocket is doing to you through the social media addiction you’re constantly nursing. Know that you have a choice. Know that there could be another way.
Book: Ten Argument For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.
Author: Jaron Lanier
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