All of us are profoundly affected by changing technologies. Many of you reading this have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, or may use other platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. We take computers and platforms for granted, as though they always existed. How our world has transformed over the last 30 years!
The Internet is an encyclopedia of easily accessible information. Ask your smartphone a question and a female voice will come back with the answer in a matter of seconds. Now children can give orders to Alexa and Cortana: “Alexa, vacuum my room.” “Cortana, turn on the light.”
The benefits of these new technologies, devices and programs are obvious, but are cracks in our electronic media structure beginning to appear? Some authorities say yes, and are sounding alarm bells. For instance, there are privacy concerns. How much of our private lives is sold and to whom? Are Google, Amazon, Microsoft or others eavesdropping on us? Who may be hacking into our home security systems? But the concerns go further. What is this new world doing to us, and where are we heading? The World Wide Web, social media and the devices that make it all possible are changing how we spend our time, how we communicate and how we relate with one another.
Take, for example, Alexa and similar “digital assistant” devices. Some authorities are concerned that small children can become confused over the difference between real and imaginary people. They have concerns regarding communication skills. Who is teaching please and thank you? Who is monitoring the tone of voice and attitude? Are we training our children to become bossy—“unfriendly users” of “user friendly” devices? Will they relate with real people the same way?
And, is Alexa or Cortana replacing God in their lives? Consider this: “Alexa, ask meditation studio to play a meditation.” Your child may get what is described as follows: “Slow breathing is yoga practice that increases oxygen levels in your brain and expels toxins, reduces stress, boosts the immune system and strengthens the lungs and heart.” That sounds innocuous enough to many, but is it? Does it simply help one relax, or open one to Hindu practices and ideas about what meditation is?
You might disregard these concerns as overly reactionary, but some of the biggest names in the industry now express regrets over where they have taken us. It has happened so rapidly, and if there is one axiom that it would do us well to consider, it is the law of unintended consequences. While some of these social media entrepreneurs continue raking in money, others express grave concerns over the monsters they personally helped create. Their concerns are for children and society in general.
Perhaps it is time to take stock and ask yourself: What is social media and all its related technologies doing to me and to my family? The road is beautiful, but where is it taking me?
In a recent RT article titled, “Phone addiction can mess up brain chemistry, study finds” we are told, “Scientists at Korea University found that teenagers who obsessively used their mobile devices scored higher on standardized tests that detect mental disorders. The test measured how much internet and smartphone use affected daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.” The same source reported the following: “A recent study found 46 percent of Americans [say] they could not live without their smartphone, according to a Pew Research Center study. Scientists are increasingly looking at disruptions in the glutamate/Gaba-glutamine cycle because of a variety of neurological disorders and conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and autism” (RT.com, December 14, 2017).
It is obviously hyperbole to suggest “they could not live without their smartphone,” but it demonstrates the addictive nature of these devices and their importance in the lives of too many, and “addictive nature” is no exaggeration. Some “tech execs” and social media founders now admit this. Significant Silicon Valley players are sounding alarm bells. Sean Parker is not as much a household name as Mark Zuckerberg, but his influence is felt by every Facebook user.
Living with Regrets
Parker is a giant when it comes to social media and, according to his entry on Biography.com, “a darling of the tech world. Beginning as a rogue computer hacker in his teens, Parker showed his early genius as co-founder of the file-sharing computer service Napster. Later, he became the founding president of Facebook. He’s reported to be worth more than $2 billion.”
Parker recently came out regarding the dangers and the damage to culture and to individuals because of such platforms as Facebook and Twitter. He spilled the beans to Axios, an Internet news source, in late 2017, explaining how Facebook was deliberately designed to addict people to its use.
“The thought process that went into building these processes, Facebook being the first of them… was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible,’” he said. “And that means we have to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…. It’s a social-validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators—it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Keven Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people—understood this consciously,” he added. “And we did it anyway.”
Parker also confessed earlier in the interview: “I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying [in promoting social media], because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and… it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains” (Mike Allen, “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,’” Axios.com, November 9, 2017).
Another giant in social media is Evan Williams. He is a co-creator of Blogger and a Twitter founder, where he is the largest stockholder—no small credentials. A New York Times article labels him “the guy who opened up Pandora’s box,” and said, “Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.” When asked how he thinks it is going, “‘I think the internet is broken,’ he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. ‘And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.’”
The New York Times article goes on to explain, “People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant.”
Ev, as he is often called, has been there. He is what most people consider wildly successful, but the question should be asked: Is he happy? “After fame and fortune come regrets. Mr. Williams is trying to fix some things. So, in different ways, are Google and Facebook, and even Twitter. This is a moment for patches and promises. The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.” He went on to confess, “‘I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,’ Mr. Williams says. ‘I was wrong about that’” (Streitfield, David. “‘The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It,” NYTimes.com, May 20, 2017).
Free Speech Lost
There is the belief that the Internet in general, and social media in particular, promotes free speech. This is myth! It is well-known that Silicon Valley executives are among the most liberal of people, and are changing the world to their liking through political correctness. Young millennials parrot back ideas espoused by socialist university professors. This has caused a backlash from individuals who see their countries losing their identities and historic values. The backlash sometimes comes in the form of Nazi and white supremacist hate speech, and this in turn “justifies” attempts to suppress anything thought of as hate speech.
True hate speech exists and should be condemned by all sensible people everywhere, but here is the problem: How exactly do you define hate speech? This is not nearly as easy as it seems, because not everyone can agree as to what it is. Much that the illiberal left labels as hate speech is no more than politically incorrect difference of opinion.
Pro-lifers who sincerely believe abortion is murder and speak out for the most vulnerable and defenseless humans are often painted as fascist hate mongers. However, those who fancy themselves as pro-choice and support ripping tiny infants apart and vacuuming them out of their mothers’ wombs are virtually never labelled as members of a “hate group.” If anyone does not like this description of abortion, get over it! Open your eyes, for this is exactly what is done in many cases. Why is it “hate” to tell the truth?
However, due to real hate speech that attempts to stir people to violence, along with fake news and vulgar discourse, it is understandable that there is an outcry for monitoring and deleting such postings on social media and the Internet in general. Google hired 10,000 people in 2017 for this very purpose. Twitter jumped on board to do the same. Fox News reported the following about the move:
The changes announced last month [November 2017] broaden Twitter’s “hateful conduct policy” to permanently suspend any account… that displays “violent threats, multiple slurs, epithets, racist or sexist tropes, incites fear or reduces someone to less than human.”… Hate imagery will now fall under the rubric of Twitter’s “sensitive media policy,” and that will include any “logos, symbols, or images whose purpose is to promote hostility and malice against others based on their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” And these policies apply “both on and off the platform” (Carbone, Christopher. “Twitter begins purge of far-right accounts as new hate speech rules take effect.” FoxNews.com, December 18, 2017).
Do you see the danger? How will they define “sexist tropes,” inciting fear, or reducing someone to “less than human”? How will they determine what constitutes promoting hostility against religion or sexual orientation? Given political correctness, micro-aggressions, and the ease with which liberal university professors convince students they should feel offended, can we not see where this is headed?
If anyone doubts the illiberal bias and growing censorship of legitimate discourse, consider the case of the PragerU channel on YouTube. PragerU had so many videos blocked on the platform that they filed a lawsuit against Google, the owner of YouTube, in 2017. Anyone familiar with PragerU knows that it violates no Google prohibitions. At the time of this writing, their videos contain no harmful or dangerous content, no nudity, and no sexual material. They have no violent or graphic content. They respect copyright laws, they avoid spam, misleading metadata and scams, and they do nothing to endanger children.
In PragerU’s press release announcing their suit against Google and YouTube, they quote former California Governor Pete Wilson: “This is speech discrimination plain and simple, censorship based entirely on unspecified ideological objection to the message or on the perceived identity and political viewpoint of the speaker” (“PragerU Takes Legal Action Against Google and YouTube for Discrimination,” PragerU.com, 2017).
Waldorf School in Silicon Valley
The New York Times reported in 2011 about a private school in Los Altos, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley: “The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children [here]. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard” (Richtel, Matt. “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute,” NYTimes.com, October 22, 2011). One would expect that the children of these elite employees, who pay over $17,000 per year in tuition for each elementary student, should have a significant advantage over the rest of us. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but here is what is so striking: the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one in a chain of 160 across the United States, shies away from technology—so much so that there are no computers, no iPads, and no iPhones! As the article explained,
[T]he school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home. Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.
New York University professor Adam Alter explains, “75% of the students [at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula] are the children of Silicon Valley tech execs, which is striking. These are people who, publicly, will expound on the wonders of the products they’re producing and at the same time they decided in all their wisdom that their kids didn’t belong in a school that used that same tech” (Yates, Eames. “This Silicon Valley school shuns technology—yet most of the students are children of tech execs,” BusinessInsider.com, March 23, 2017).
Toni Hassan, writing for Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, titled an article, “Facebook is ripping society apart, and other reasons to abandon social media.” He begins by describing another powerful disillusioned player. “When Chamath Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007, it had 50 million users. By the time he left after four years, it had 800 million. He was its vice-president for user growth. These days, he feels tremendously guilty.” Hassan himself states in this article:
I think we all knew in the back of our minds, even though we feigned this whole line that there probably aren’t any bad consequences, I think in the deep recesses of our minds we kind of knew something bad could happen… The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we’ve created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no co-operation, misinformation, mistruth, and it’s not an American problem—this is not about Russian ads—this is a global problem (SMH.com.au, December 15, 2017).
It is interesting to note that Mark Zuckerberg studied psychology as well as computer science at Harvard, but nothing in this article is meant to portray him, or any of these men, as evil. They began as very intelligent young men trying to become successful, and some thought they could change the world for the better—but there is always that law of unintended consequences. Some are now expressing contrition and trying to change things for the better. It takes courage to speak out as some have. However, there is a spirit being that the Bible calls “the prince of the power of the air,” and he is directing “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). He is the one deceiving the whole world (Revelation 12:9).
Taming the Multi-headed Monster
The most significant roadblock to change is not admitting to yourself that you need to change. An alcoholic lives in denial, and those who are addicted to one or more social media platforms generally refuse to accept that they are hooked. There are others who cheerfully admit they are addicted, but do not see it as a big deal. As we have seen in this article, some of the insiders who created these technologies and platforms do think it is a big problem. As Sean Parker declared, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Social media has become a multi-headed monster that is impossible to tame in our current world. There is the head of addiction, the head of misinformation through fake news, the head of destroying face-to-face communication, the head of physical inactivity, the heads of violent, vulgar and hate-filled speech. At the same time, we have the head of censoring legitimate ideas. This article will do nothing to slow down the train we are on, but it may encourage you to tame the monster in your home.
The first step is to open your eyes to the reality of the problem. Yes, everyone wants to keep up with children, grandchildren, parents, aunts and uncles. We enjoy seeing pictures and reading what happened to them last week, but as with television before social media, we must control its use. We must remember that it was specifically created to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible…. And that means we have to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while…. It’s a social-validation feedback loop.” You may not understand exactly how that works, but more than one founder of a social media platform now admits that this was their intent from the beginning. We would do well to accept their confessions!
Once you realize there is a problem, you must be willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, you have fallen for the trap. Only then can you take control of the problem. Once you admit this, you have to take action. Make rules for yourself and your family to tame the monster. Here are some suggestions:
- Mealtime should be “time out” from social media and tech devices—put them away!
- Set time limits for each day and stick with them
- Keep a log of every minute you spend on social media
- Never text or check your social media accounts when visiting with others—it’s rude!
- Never, never text or use mobile devices while driving!
- Call “time out” one day a week
- Call “time out” when fishing, playing golf or enjoying other recreational activities
Here is some wise advice from the Bible: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:23). In chapter 6 and verse 12 of this same book, the first part of the scripture is the same, but the second half is different. “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Take control! Tame the monster!