Facebook, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Google, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube; It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these tools have actually created some wonderful things in the world. They have reunited family members, found organ donors; there were meaningful, positive and productive things happening because of these platforms. But I think that we were naïve about the flip side of that coin. These tools take a life on their own if you release them and how they are and can be used is pretty different from what we could have ever expected.
The questions which you must be coming across now must be IS THERE A PROBLEM and WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? But unfortunately, it’s hard to give a single and succinct answer to these. New studies nowadays are mostly about the link between the use of Social Media and Mental health but these researches usually don’t get a lot of coverage. Millions of individuals are hopelessly addicted to their electronic devices. This is exacerbated by the fact that you can’t literally isolate yourself in a bubble. Fake news is becoming more advanced and threatening societies around the world. YouTube is forced to concentrate on cleansing the site; if you ever ask a teen about TikTok; there is no way that they are getting off that app. Cosmetic procedures are becoming so popular with teens, plastic surgeons have coined a new syndrome for this called “Snapchat dysmorphia” with teen patients who want to look more like they do in filtered selfies.
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Surveillance capitalism has come to shape politics and culture in ways many people don’t perceive. ‘ISIS inspired followers online and now White supremacists are doing the same’ said a reporter recently. We have gone from the information age to the disinformation age; how can we deal with an epidemic in the age of fake news. Our democracy is under assault because elections today can easily get hacked; these tools have started to erode the social fabric of how our societies work. There’s a cacophony of grievances and scandals when people are asked what is actually wrong with tech industries: invasion of privacy, identity theft, fake news and other cybercrimes. But is there something beneath all of this, one thing that is causing all of this to happen? The answer lies in the fact that only a few guys at the big tech are responsible for the way 8 billion people think.
— Global Defense Insight (@Defense_Talks) June 12, 2021
According to Roger McNamee (an investor in technology), the first 50 years of Silicon Valley was based on building products like software and hardware and sell them to customers; but the recent 10 years have been focused on ways of selling the users of these products. The classic saying is that “If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.” A lot of people think that Google is just a search box and Facebook is just a place to see what my friends are doing and see their pictures; they don’t realize that they are competing for their attention. The business models of these companies is to keep people engaged on the screen; the services on the internet which we think of as free are not actually free. They’re paid by the advertisers; they pay in exchange for showing their ads to us which means it’s our attention that is the ‘product’. Our attention is being sold to the advertisers. We are the products and not the consumers. The Silicon Valley ex-workers have quoted this dilemma in a simple and concise statement:
“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product.”
Muhammad Asaad Ali Raja
Author is currently pursuing his BS Defense and Strategic Studies from National Defense University.