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The Nature of Technological Constraints

The Smartphone
The Smartphone

If our time is a commodity that we exchange for biochemical impulses that we have as much chance resisting as a drug addict his cocaine, or an alcoholic his whiskey, then we need to think again about the real constraints that being imposed on us by technology. 

It’s not that the Buddhist appreciates his time more than the Wall Street banker, it’s that he is subjugated to different constraints. The banker determines his plans according to financial constraints, while the Buddhist makes his plans according to spiritual constraints. Some people misidentify their constraints. The entrepreneur, for example, thinking that they are living according to financial constraints – may instead be living according to his need to be independent.

Social obligations are constraints – you cannot choose to live independently from society. You are forced to operate within the bounds of social rules, customs, and duties. Your personality, determined by biology and environment, is another constraint. People who are high in openness cannot but act in such a way to satisfy their urge to discover new things. Extroverted individuals need to plan their time around other people, while introverts are compelled to spend a lot of time alone.

Environmental constraints have been loosened. If you were living in different time, you might have been limited to only a few simple choices when it comes to what you want to do with your life.

But today, the options are vast, and no matter where you are in the world. If you have a computer, and access to the internet, the possibilities are infinite. At least, that’s the story we are told.

But what are the constraints you are subject to? The internet opens possibilities, but it also involves an dynamic interplay between your mind and the content it is exposed to. The internet may allow access to any book in the world, but the existence of social media may limit the amount of time you devote to these books. Social media technology is designed to influence your behavior, to make you addicted to random prompts that provide you with intermittent rewards.

The types of constraints that exist in the offline world are obvious. You are painfully aware of where you spend your time physically. Indeed, casinos try very hard to get people to forget about their physical environment by manipulating the sounds, lights, even the amount of oxygen that you breathe.

Your smartphone is a portable casino. Through it, you are pulled into to a world that is infinitely amusing, where you lose your sense of time. You trade your time for entertainment, and eventually, you cease to see meaning in things outside the world of the screen.

The people who invent the apps that you download want to monetize your attention, not by informing you or creating value, but by luring you in with the bait. The bait is the entertainment, in the form of a game or social media platform. Once you’re in, the focus is to figure out how to keep you in there for as long as possible.

There is a talk by Simon Sinek that talks about the challenges millennial are facing today (anyone born after 1984). They are considered lazy and entitled by their elders but they are not without positive traits. This generation cares about making an impact. The problem is that they are impatient. They are unwilling to dedicate years of their lives to the pursuit of an ambitious goal, they get discouraged too easily. But Sinek points out that this is the fault of corporations. Facebook, Tinder and Netflix have gotten people accustomed to the age of instant gratification. No longer do people have to hone complex social skills to get a date or get entertained – everything is a click away. 

It’s difficult to reflect on something when you are in it. People who lived through the world war didn’t know what to make of it while they were living through it. Similarly, we are living in the internet age, and it’s hard to know what to make of it.

It’s hard to really know how badly your sense of time has been distorted by technology. To what extent is addiction and anxiety the inevitable ramifications of high speed internet? What defense do you have against the dark side of technology? 

When you consider that there are people who’s livelihood depends on exploiting your fragility aggressively because of cut throat competition, then it is hard to envision how the average user can defend themselves at all. 

We don’t know what kind of society will eventually result from this social experiment, but we can observe society today, and if it’s any indication of the future, then it is going to be an increasingly socially isolated, superficial, anxious world. 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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