Thoughts, reflections, and ideas

Who is controlling whom

Posted on

Technology is everywhere nowadays. It's the computer that we use every day, our smartphone, the watch that is connected to the Internet, our new and futurist car that provides you with the last data about the traffic. There used to be more distance between us technology, but it's so widely adopted that nowadays we don't know how to live without technology. I feel like a few years ago we were the ones controlling the technology, but more and more, it's technology the one that is controlling us nowadays.

I'm in the process of simplifying my life. Call it embracing minimalism, although I like to think about it as just getting rid of the things that I don't need (I'm not a big fan of naming things). I think spending some time thinking about what we need, and what we don't is an exercise that we all should practice quite often. You'll be surprised at all the stuff that you own, and which you don't need. Don't worry, we live surrounded by capitalism, so it's easy to believe that we need all these things. When I have these moments, I always think about technology because it's something very present in my life, not only at work. I reflect on how I use technology, how often I use it, how addicted I am to it. I like technology. I've been working in tech companies since I became a developer, and I think that used correctly, it's handy. However, technology is potent, so are the companies that leverage technology to create products. When a few years ago there was only the web, companies couldn't hook us as much as they wanted. We were the ones deciding when was the right time to sit in front of the computer to surf the internet. The decision was on our side; our brain knew that a computer was a tool that allowed us to stay connected with the world, and we used it more thoughtfully. The web is still a thing, but there are apps, push notifications, messaging apps, bots, social networks. The list of stimulating web-based technologies is enourmous. Our brain is more connected than ever to the internet, and it's getting used to receiving a lot of dopamine triggers. Companies know it, but almost no one is doing anything about it. Our brain is dumber than ever, and the control that we had over technology is fading away.

The impact this is having on our society is huge. People might see it as something positive, or not that negative, but in my opinion is something we should be worried about. Instagram has got a lot of people sharing every single moment of their life or taking photos of the dishes that I get in restaurants. If you think about that, is like if Instagram had programmed our brains to behave on a certain way, by just using an app and some push notifications. They have the power to use technology to create habits on people. The way we interact with other people, the way we connect, the way we communicate is not genuine anymore and is the result of some habit companies are creating through technology. Moreover, they know we are afraid of missing out. They know that we'd feel alone if we don't do what everyone else does. They know we'll keep our accounts, and be forced to use them not to be seen as a strange.

As I mentioned, no one is taking action on this. Neither the companies nor the government. Who cares? Hooked brains are easy to manipulate minds. It's something good for both, governments and businesses. When you look at the plans of the big players in technology, no one is planning to reduce the time people spend using their products. Time spent on their products will be most likely one of the KPIs. It feels to me that technologies are being developed with humans, not for humans. If you develop something to solve people's problems or make their life easier, you care about different aspects, including the addiction that your product might create. Do you remember those messages when you played video games saying "remember that playing more than x hours is not good for your health"? I wonder why those messages are not enforced on the internet. Isn't the same spending 8 hours using Facebook as playing video games?

In the same way we need to train to keep our body healthy, we'll also need to exercise our relationship with technology (I don't expect companies to do anything in that regard). Something that I do when I use technology is to think who triggered the interaction. Was it me because I needed something in particular? Or was technology because it wanted to catch my attention? If it's the latter, I take action. Sometimes, the solution is just disabling push notifications. In some other situations, it's just uninstalling the app or unsubscribing from the service because it's not bringing any value to my life. I have push notifications disabled for most of the apps, except the messaging apps. I don't use social networks on my mobile phone, and I removed my Instagram account. When I get emails that I don't care about I unsubscribe from the service immediately. I use Twitter and Facebook more thoughtfully, timeboxing the time that I spend on them, and using them only when I'm looking for something in particular.

Doing all these changes in my life and using technology thoughtfully is hard, especially if you work in the tech industry. I was hooked, and I realized that I was struggling to spend valuable time without thinking about technology. Do you know that feeling when you open Twitter from time to time in case something happened, or Instagram to see what everyone is doing? Or caring more about taking and posting photos instead of enjoying the places that you visit on your trips? I had them, I felt I had to, but not anymore. I have more time to think, I spend with my girlfriend, with friends. Valuable time where my brain is also present. In this world, where technology is controlling us more and more, I won't let it hook me.