Beyond the addicting and negative mental health effects, there's another troubling dynamic: depending on the whims of the Big Tech oligarchs, people's behavior can be algorithmically shaped to do more than just create more product engagement; algorithms can create a content-driven groupthink effect that can skew people's behavior, including their voting habits, their ideologies, as well as their perception of what may or may not be considered normative and nonnormative behavior.
In effect, our tech addiction—which leads to compromised mental health—can then also lead to digital brainwashing and behavior modification. Unlike prior dictatorships that were only able to physically imprison people or compel conformity out of fear, now, for the first time in human history, a handful of people can control our thoughts--once thought to be the hallowed ground of a free society. Even during the worst days of totalitarian oppression—from the gulags to concentration camps—tyrants could break the body, but the prisoner could remain free in their mind. Not so today. Today, the mind 'is' the battleground—and Big Tech wants complete control.
And here's another news flash: not only have we become trapped in addicting and brainwashing digital cages, but in true Stockholm syndrome fashion, we've fallen in love with our captivity and with the captors who created the cage.
Welcome to the machine. Or the Matrix. Or Plato's cave. Or the digital dream. Whatever you choose to call it, like the roach motel—once you go in, you can never get out.
Or can you?
I've found that, yes, there is a way out of the Matrix, and, like Neo, there is a red pill that we can take to regain our individual and collective sanity in this modern digital madness.
The cure to our modern high-tech lives rests firmly in the past. In fact, the antidote to the modern is ancient—as in really old-school. As I'll explain in the book, we have an ancient blueprint for healthy living with enhanced mental well-being and clarity that can help us get back into a healthier, saner, and more balanced realignment; we can once again reclaim our humanity and live in the way that people were genetically designed and evolved to live.
The harsh reality is that we're out of balance as a species. Technology can be a wonderful tool, but as Thoreau once said, "We've become the tools of our tools." To that, I would also add: today, not only are we the tools of our tools, we've also become the broken tools of the people who make our tools.
No longer. It's time to wake up from the dream-as-nightmare...it's time to break free from our honey-soaked digital cages and once again live as fully engaged and embodied humans.
We need that ancient cure now more than ever.
A WORLD GONE MAD
ADDICTED TO THE MATRIX
A Butterfly Dreaming...
It was a picture of a cow.
Yes, a picture can be worth a thousand words—but this picture was so bizarre, so immediately jarring to the senses that all that I could think was that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. Because this wasn't just a picture of any old cow—it was a picture of a cow wearing a virtual reality headset.
Real cow. Virtual headset. Reality optional.
Like a Salvador Dalí clock, at once familiar yet strangely disconcerting, it was science fiction meets the surreal in one singular image that made it clear that we're all in for a bumpy ride and we had better strap in—and that we also had better wake up quickly.
I had this cow-induced realization on a rainy and overcast afternoon in San Francisco on December 3, 2019. My father had just died a couple of months earlier, so the typical Bay Area weather reflected my mood as well. I'd been invited to be a presenter at the prestigious Commonwealth Club, a venerable and staid institution that's the oldest public affairs forum in the entire United States. It's hosted a variety of innovative thinkers and world leaders who make our world go round; it was where FDR delivered his iconic New Deal speech, and President Eisenhower, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and several Nobel Prize winners have all graced its stage.
Rain or not, it's a special place to speak.
As a psychologist, professor, and author who explores how new technology is impacting our species, I'd been asked to make a presentation and then participate on a panel that was ominously titled: "Humanity at a Crossroads: New Insights into Technology's Risks for Humans and the Planet."
The topic was right up my alley.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss.