(5 / 5)
Smack! Smack! Smack! That’s how I felt reading just the Table of Contents of Jaron Lanier’s latest book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – like I was being hit upside the head by a dreadlocked Silicon Valley elder. Which is precisely what was happening. In his book, Lanier is fervently and urgently trying to tell people that they—we—you—are selling our souls, our privacy, our free will in exchange for “free” likes and search results. Far from being Chicken Little, he cogently and thoroughly lays out the aspects of our emotions, our ability to earn money, and our capacity to trust and be trusted that are insidiously and negatively being affected by the current tech business model he calls BUMMER.
In short: BUMMER-driven companies (Google and Facebook are exclusively BUMMER-driven, various other companies to a lesser degree) sell access to our data to various third-party entities, e.g., political campaigns and corporations, who then in turn manipulate the ads and slogans they target us with in hopes of manipulating us to buy, vote, not vote, etc. The more detailed the data they can get on us, the more they can micromanipulate what we see and how we feel, and therefore, how we act. Lanier’s take is that until we stop just giving them our data and are willing to pay for what we access, BUMMER and all of its harmful, destructive consequences will continue. If we, the consumer, are paying these companies to use their products, then we have the leverage to say “I don’t like that you are selling my data, I’m taking my business elsewhere”. Right now, we have no say because we are not the consumer, we are the product.
Jaron Lanier is clear to point out that he does not think technology is evil, nor, by and large, are the thousands of people behind the scenes creating the technology we use every day (he is, after all, one of the creators of avatars and virtual reality). He is also not anti-social media; he understands and appreciates the wonderful opportunities it gives us to connect and share. He is, however, passionately and rationally against us ceding our ability to think and choose for ourselves—that is, our free will—to companies solely for their financial gain. I mean, if we give up that, what’s left of us?