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Social Dilemmas

"Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse." - Sophocles

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

In the dictionary we had in my sixth grade classroom the entry for "Redwood" said just "Sequoia." The entry for "Sequoia" said "Redwood," nothing more. The definition of "addiction" that Google offers in its dictionary is just as circular, "the fact or condition of being addicted..." Whatever happened to that rule regarding not using the word you are trying to define in your definition of the word?

The website for the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health does better:

"Addiction is a term that means compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (like heroin or nicotine), characterized by tolerance and well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; it has also been used more broadly to refer to compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful."

The documentary The Social Dilemma (available on Netflix) features former top executives of social media companies exploring the addictive qualities of social media and the damage it is doing to society.

"Conscientious defectors from companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram explain that the perniciousness of social networking platforms is a feature, not a bug." - New York Times

We know that there is a difference between casual usage and addiction. Someone, once or twice a month, can get a little drunk and smoke a couple of cigarettes at a party or even use heroin and not get addicted to alcohol or nicotine or heroin.

There is a difference between desire and addiction. Desire involves choice. Addiction does not. Casual usage stops and addiction begins when you cannot stop doing something, even when you know (or should know) that what you are doing is doing you harm.

"If something is a tool, it genuinely is just sitting there, waiting patiently. If something is not a tool, it's demanding things from you, it's seducing you, it's manipulating you, it wants things from you. We've moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-based technology environment. That's what's changed; social media isn't just a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you." - The Social Dilemma

It may be that all businesses would like to addict us, to have us focus exclusively on their product. McDonalds might want us to eat their food every day, two or three times a day. It's just that they don't have the means to make that happen. Social media does.

The algorithms on the apps on our smart phone deliver notifications, content and other stimuli designed to be as addictive as the slot machines in Las Vegas. The apps are high tech instruments scientifically designed by very intelligent people to maximally addict us. Social media is designed to nurture an addiction. Artificial Intelligence has already arrived, but not as robots from the future, and is already in control.

"Our attention can be mined. We are more profitable to a corporation if we are spending our time staring at a screen, staring at an ad than if we are living our life in a rich way."

In a way similar to a drug addiction, social media addiction takes advantage of our neurology. The drug fits onto brain's neural receptor sites mimicking our own neuro-transmittors. Social media addiction fits into our neural programming, stimulated primal responses to social stimuli, acceptance, validation, belonging, rejection... These basic drives, shared as they are by lower animals, predate even human psychology. qqq

Then, there is a difference between assumed and unassumed risks. People know that tobacco is addictive and assume the risk of smoking it. But they didn't know that the cigarette company was adding extra nicotine to their cigarettes to make them more addictive.

Television plays on our ancient neural programming to listen to stories, a very important function for our ancestors while they were sitting around the fire out on the savanna. On the sit-com the actor bursts into the apartment and announces to those inside, "You won't believe what happened at the office today," and we're hooked. But the hook is not nearly so well-fastened as it is with social media. No industry before has had the power to addict the general public so deeply or broadly.

"While most people are aware that they're being mined for data while on these sites, few realize how deep the probe goes... If you think the trade-off is merely getting targeted ads for your favorite sneakers, you are in for a big shock." - Los Angeles Times

Sharply rising teenage suicide rates tell us that it is a matter of life and death. But short of that, not only are teenagers being increasingly poorly socialized, but society itself is losing the empathic trust that binds us together.

To frame the problem in understandable terms the film asks us to imagine a Wikipedia that does not deliver the same information to each user. Instead this Wikipedia, tailors the information it provides according to the profile of the person seeking the information. This is the algorithm performing confirmation bias for us. We only see, we are only allowed to see, what we already believe to be true. It is a closed circle: a Redwood is a Sequoia is a Redwood... There is no learning.

Society is based on common values. If you are not exposed to points of view different than your own, if you do not admit that there are other, intelligent points of view, then you are not informed. People in such intellectual bubbles, believe those who disagrees with them are uninformed, stupid or evil. With less than three weeks to go before the presidential election, does any of this sound familiar?

Critical Race Theory (the parent of identity politics) takes this a step further, denying shared truth, denying a basis to reality altogether. It teaches that, Western Enlightenment culture, knowing based on objectivity, neutrality, and evidence (science), is no more valuable than knowing based on story telling and lived experiences, that is, what any individual or group feels to be the truth. What could possibly go wrong with that?


Dr David has created Lokkal, a social network that is not commercially-driven (just being launched starting here in San Miguel) as an alternative to the abuses of social media.

"Any solution to this problem has to realign the financial incentives."
"The fabric of a healthy society depends on us getting free of this gross business model and demanding that these products be designed humanely. We can demand not to be treated as an extractable resource." - The Social Dilemma.

"Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race right up to the final moments." - Buckminster Fuller

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copyright 2020
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