Let me tell you what I know about you.
To be sure, we’ve never met. I’ve never seen you before. Our paths have never crossed, but I know things about you. I know what provokes you. I know what influences you. I know you have a relationship with your phone that is more private, more intimate than you’d like to admit. I know about your surreptitious technological liaison, the unspoken union between you and it. It’s not wholly dissimilar to the bond you have with your spouse or significant other, only deeper, more profound, and in some ways, furtive. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you love it. But, either way, you can’t give it up. What that portends for the future is troubling.
So. Let me tell you what I know about you.
You’re educated. You have a college degree, but sometimes wonder why. You don’t read a newspaper, wish there were more bookstores in the world, and generally hate it when someone asks you to change the background on their iPhone. Sometimes, you stare so long at your phone while seated on the toilet that your legs go numb, making it difficult to stand and walk. You’ve shared a meal with loved ones only to realize that dinner is over and your daughter never looked up from her tablet. It’s hard to recall the last time you listened to a real, over-the-air radio station.
Am I getting close?
Right now, within feet of you, is a computer. Perhaps it’s your cell. Maybe an iPad. Possibly you roll old-school and have a laptop nearby. Whatever the case, you own at least one of them and read your email through it. In addition to a work email address, you possess at least one personal email account, probably more. There’s a better-than-average chance your personal account is Gmail. If you’re like the more than 1 billion people who access it every day, Facebook is your most-used app and you use it to traipse through the countless photos and status updates of your friends. Well, "friends" is an overused word. You’ve stalked more than your share of people through Facebook, clicking on their images, reading their updates, with no purpose other than to nose around. You’ve done the same on Twitter, Instagram, and Tinder.
You may not know what Rule 34 is, but you’ve seen enough pornography to understand that if you can think of it, there is porn of it on the web. Even though you know it’s a horrible idea, you’ve texted a sexy pic of yourself, or received one, at least once your life. You know what “Netflix and chill,” “bae," and “#mcm” mean, and have right-swiped more people into your life than have right-swiped you into theirs. In awkward social situations, you reach for your phone, grappling for something to do other than engage in conversation. You profess a concern for your personal privacy, and voiced outrage when Edward Snowden disclosed numerous government spying programs, but then Mr. Robot became a thing and it’s much more entertaining to watch a show about it than fix what you’re knee-deep in.
Our technologies possess intention, delicately guiding and influencing our most human behaviors in ways we haven’t considered. We are lured by the promise of connectedness, but are slow to discover the subtle dominance technology exerts over how we meet, fall in love, marry one another, raise children, and die. Further, because our devices are capable of amazing things, we’ve adopted them. We’ve brought them into the fold, entrusted them with the most treasured details of who we are. And therein lies the problem.
Sometimes I’m asked about the future. What do I think will happen when an artificially intelligent robot finally arrives? Will new social media apps bring together disparate cultures, enabling an enlightenment of sorts or will they ignite the already smoldering embers of acrimony and hostility found online? These questions miss the fullness of what lies ahead. It’s not that the glass is half empty or half full. It’s that there’s a glass at all and we’ve chosen an eager blindness to it.