We like to think of technology as something that allows us to expand our lives and make them better. After all, who doesn’t want to scroll through dozens of helpful apps on their phones, looking for great local pizza restaurants nearby?
But all this technology has a rather nasty dark side. Yes – it provides incredible convenience. But it comes at a cost: freedom.
What freedom means to you depends on your values. But, for most people, it means being able to live in a world free from the threat of violence and other people imposing their ideologies on you. A free society sees each person as a sovereign agent – someone who can make decisions for themselves.
Unfortunately, technology is making that utopic world seem more and more distant. We now have mainstream service providers blocking content they don’t like and creating their own narratives. And it’s massively influencing ordinary people, getting them riled up over issues that have no meaningful impact on their lives.
Popular magazines like to suggest that the internet is taking away our freedom because it is allowing terrorists to communicate with each other or it is leading to the rise of right wing ideas. But they are a part of the same system of control. It’s the search engines and social networks who are censoring speech the most on their platforms – more than most modern Western governments.
In this post, we take a look at some of the threats that tech poses to individual freedom. Some of the ideas presented here go quite deep. But so long as you are aware of them, you can take steps that prevent other organizations from having power over you.
Reducing Your Control Over Your Mind
When was the last time you felt happy for 24 hours straight?
Chances are, it was probably a long time ago – perhaps even before the pandemic. We tell ourselves stories like “life’s hard” and “nothing that worth fighting for ever came easy.” But was life always like this?
Think back ten years ago if you’re old enough and consider how your life used to be before technology became so pervasive. In all likelihood, you were a more content human being.
Why have things changed so much for the worse over the last decade, even though technology got much better? Researchers think that it has a lot to do with the way information overload affects our minds.
How the internet reduces the control we have over our minds is interesting. It turns out that humans are subject to a phenomenon called mirroring. It means that, over time, we reflect back the ideas and values of the people around us.
In the past, people retained their independence of mind by assessing their world using their cognitive abilities. In short, they came to their own conclusions about things. But, thanks to the internet, it’s almost impossible not to get hooked up to somebody’s else’s narrative and assumptions. And even if we start out with different opinions, people often converge with the mainstream.
Increasing Your Access To Stress
Let’s say that some disaster occurs on the other side of the world. In the past, you’d read about it in the newspaper the next day. But with smartphones, newsfeeds pipe the story to you immediately, without any delay. In other words, the stress is immediate.
Something similar is going on with social relationships. In the past, you’d arrange to meet up with people for special occasions. But with smartphones, anyone can talk to anyone else immediately. So you can never really get away from it all. Your friends, colleagues and boss can contact you whenever they like. And you don’t have any valid excuses for ignoring their attempts to communicate.
Stress is something that we need to control to become happy, confident and effective human beings in the world. But smartphones are making that increasingly difficult. They attempt to get us addicted to watching the news or checking Facebook updates by stimulating our primal fear response. And when they do, it can be incredibly effective.
Reducing Your Privacy
Ever-increasing technology is also leading to some serious privacy issues. We now live in a world where it is almost impossible to avoid being tracked online.
In many cases, this tracking is benign. Companies are collecting data anonymously and then using it to send you targeted ads – it’s no big deal. But in other cases, firms are sharing it between themselves and monetizing it, even without your permission. And many people think that’s wrong.
Companies are also doing things that are potentially extremely damaging to freedom. Governments, for instance, often ask private brands for information on people they suspect of acting against them. Many voices have been silenced as a result.
Having privacy is critical because it prevents blackmail. If everyone knows everything there is to know about you, it gives them tremendous power over you and reduces your quality of life. For instance, they could point to something you said ten years ago, and accuse you of being racist, sexist or something along those lines, destroying your reputation in the process.
Reductions in privacy are a big deal. But it all depends on how far it goes. We could wind up in a situation where so little privacy exists that it begins to impact the people in positions of power. Naturally, they will want their own privacy, even if they don’t support it for the masses. And, at that point, they’ll start instituting new laws to make it happen.
To some extent, we’ve seen this already with GDPR. But it will likely grow in the future as privacy becomes rarer and rarer.
So what’s the solution here?
Well, if privacy matters to you – and it should – then smartphones are out.
If you want to keep personal information private, your best bet is to connect to the internet on a laptop via a VPN. Don’t use social media. And turn on all your privacy settings, ensuring that nobody can identify you as you hop from site to site.