We love our phones. But we hate our phones. We love them because they’re ours and we probably have an intractable sense of ownership over our belongings. We’re also compassionate human beings, not animals.
“This table, these chairs, that beer can,” said resident shaman Peter Gorman one day a few years back, motioning toward the Bud Light in my hand –– we were out back having a smoke –– “they all have a soul. They all come from the Earth. They all come from living things.”
We’re precious about our phones because they have souls, man! I’m particularly weird about mine because you can see my 8-year-old boy growing up on it photo by photo. My phone also contains too many dumb selfies than I care to admit.
We may hate our phones not necessarily because of what they are as much as what they represent. We’ve all probably seen the commercial: three traditionally attractive young women puckering up and posing in slow motion while shrouded by what at first glance appears to be atmospheric fog but what is, as we viewers soon discover, just steam wafting from bags of ice. The ladies are taking slow-motion selfies, or “slowfies,” as they’re referred to in the pitch, in a convenience store cooler. This is sad. The chances that the women are going to send the slowfie only to a small group of friends or a friend are low. Nothing exists unless it has been shared as widely as possible and with as many people as possible, power brokers preferably. We are all constantly on the make. Even the most influential man on the planet is mainlining likes at 3 in the morning from the White House latrine.
The future is not only digital. It is also filmic. Decidedly not-cheap mansions in the hills of Los Angeles are being taken over by teams of influencers, as they’re called, who are always young and often traditionally attractive people who post countless images and videos of themselves doing stuff, chiefly working out or playing video games. My son has a favorite. The family-friendly @pokediger1 makes his living on YouTube trying to finagle his way out of tricky situations in the role-playing universe of Roblox. Apollo does not necessarily follow every joke that Poke makes onscreen. My son likes to play Roblox along to Poke’s videos. It’s the Gen-X-kid equivalent of listening to Rush or Gary Numan while reading OMNI, I suppose, except not as unapologetically dorky.
Dana and I are doing what we can to ensure that Apollo does not turn into a film-first kind of person. He reads to us for 20 minutes or more every night (except on Christmas), and though he’s in second grade, he is reading on a fourth-grade level. We allow him to play his iPad pretty much as often as he likes, which amounts to about three or four hours per day on the weekends. Stop. Don’t say it. Though it is still up for debate, Dana and I are not horrible parents. In addition to Roblox, which is mostly just role-playing, Apollo loves Minecraft. He builds the most insane-looking machines and buildings on it. He just finished constructing a working 3D printer. What does it print out? The Facebook logo. Apollo sometimes takes up to two hours to build one of his objects. (The kid, for all of his 8-year-old probs, is not afraid of hard work.) Our boy loves his iPad just about as much as he loves reading and being read to. I don’t think he knows what a newspaper is.
The written word is mere background to the moving, often sonant pictures. People aren’t reading anymore. Men are especially stupid. From 25 percent in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of men who read for pleasure dropped almost to 15 percent by 2017. (Women, the study says, have not dropped off that much because gender superiority, according to me.) In terms of percentages rather than sheer numbers, people between the ages of 35 and 44 are less likely to read now than ever before. Before we heap all of the blame on newfangled technology, reading numbers have been sinking since the 1980s. The 1980s is when cable TV proliferated. A Netherlands study bears out the connection. “Competition from television turned out to be the most evident cause of the decline in reading,” said the study authors. In the United States, TV watching –– including on your phone or tablet –– is skyrocketing as reading time continues its slow, sad, #lowenergy decline.
None of the studies I’ve seen/googled mention what Dana believes is the biggest hinderance to leisure reading: time. There’s simply not enough of it. All parents are working as close to full-time as possible, whether that means one 9-to-5’er, two part-time gigs, or just several jobs that are probably spread all over creation because we are also commuting longer than ever before, according to new data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. So after traffic, work, more traffic, school pickup, snack, homework, play/interaction, dinner, and bathtime, parents are lucky to have not only an hour or two before crashing but one or two functioning braincells left. Good thing TV is here to do all of the thinking for us. Trying to tackle some Pynchon or Shakespeare at this hour would make your brain bleed. Simply tune in and tune out. The clicker is your friend.
A less literary populace isn’t good for me and my fellow Weekly folk, the employees of a print-first publication with a creaky, rusty website. We are doing what we can to remain relevant. There are nice pictures on our Instagram page. Award-winning investigative reporter and talented musician Jeff Prince hosts a fun little karaoke/Q&A show every week (Toast & Jam). Rush Olson, our sports guy, has landed sit-down interviews with some pretty major athletes, including Pudge Rodriguez and Darren Woodson. Our award-winning film critic Kristian Lin is always posting bonus reviews. I don’t know. The only way we seem to be able to generate traffic to our site (where the ads are) is by pimping our stories first, which means uploading them to social media, the evil empire especially.
I just don’t have it in me anymore. Back when social media first became popular, circa 2010, I couldn’t get enough of myself. Every little phrase I wrote, I cranked it up to 11 and blasted it on Facebook and Twitter. My initial thinking was, “Awww, yeah. Some New Yorker editor’s gonna see this and hire me on the spot!” Now I’m like, “Print journalism is in trouble, and if I’m not feeling around for a life raft, I’m being an irresponsible parent and life partner. Maybe someone at Citibank or GatSplat Indoor Paintball, Axe Throwing, and Birthday Parties will see this new story I wrote for the Weekly and offer me a copywriting gig.”
Now on FB, I make what I call “milestone” posts, not all the time but mostly. After a hard day and too many Bud Lights the other night, I uploaded a nice photo of me from college purely for upraised thumbs. It had been so long since I had felt that dopamine dump, and I suppose I needed a pick-me-up. Other than that and maybe one or two Neil Peart-related posts (R.I.P., Professor), I haven’t really posted anything of significance since last September. That’s when I made a milestone post about my beloved older brother’s suicide. My inspiration to share has been neutered by the noise. My Facebook newsfeed is full of the same posts (“top posts”) that I don’t care about and dozens of notifications that have absolutely no bearing on my actual present tense and not only because, like most parents of young children, my present tense actually consists of trying to survive and nothing else –– except, apparently, scrolling through social media in the library, a.k.a. on the toilet.
There’s also an element of self-loathing in my inability or unwillingness to pimp my stories. I hate my writing. I don’t know why I still have a job, either. Pimping, clearly, is what you have to do to be successful. In Facetwitubeland, frequency is often rewarded with greater reach, and greater reach is often rewarded with stacks of Benjamins. The other day I read a story about some young kid, college-aged maybe, who was banned from Instagram for one reason or another. The why is not important. The how is. Apparently, he had amassed a massive following just by posting memes. That’s it. Memes. After his followers reached the millions, he began posting original content, which was just him talking about whatever it is that’s relevant to young people today (roosters? microwaves? asphalt?). It’s heaven by a thousand cutups. The biggest problem faced by the mansion-ing influencers, allegedly, is time. Once again, there’s not enough of it.
The answer to the ultimate question “WTF?” is a relentless stream of new content. Your followers are a metric of your worth. A journalist friend who is friends with a journalist higher-up in the New York City area recently offered a succinct if indirect accounting of the situation. The big wig said he couldn’t hire my friend because my friend did not have enough of a social media presence. And there it is. Talent doesn’t matter. Work ethic doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm doesn’t matter. How loud you are does. For many of us, being loud goes against our emotional, bodily impulses. I guess we need to get comfy on the sidelines.
You would think this would make us bitter and sad, but it only makes us sad. Better-paying, more rewarding jobs are often the result of networking and connections. All of my connections are downward facing –– the writer of reference letters, alas, has no one to refer him. And the only networking I do is at the bar with other barflies. Until The Fort Worth Barfly News or Modern Fort Worth Barfly magazine are invented, I’m afraid the extent of my “networking” will remain limited to the warm, cozy, cash-or-debit confines of Lola’s Trailer Park on random weekday afternoons.
I’ve seen The Terminator. I first saw it as a kid in the theaters when it came out and most recently a couple of years ago at a bar, probably The Boiled Owl Tavern, the Near Southside dive to which I would escape to nurse Lone Star tall boys and watch cheesy flicks during especially slow afternoons at work. This was before I had a child. This was before life became super-stressful. I haven’t been back in years. No one needs to show up at their kid’s school with a buzz, even when a little buzzy buzz appears to be all that separates sanity from abject wretchedness. I’m more afraid of my son and children in general than I have ever been of bloodthirsty cyborgs. Maybe I’ll change my mind once the technology around me doesn’t repeatedly crap out or freeze on me. I can only imagine that tech’s batting average is about the same in other households. For a split second around Christmastime, Dana and I thought about installing one of those voice-activated do-everything devices in our home. Then we laughed and woke up: “Are we really that lazy that we can’t press ‘play’ on our phones to hear music or turn the lights on and off ourselves? How much is a Clapper?” (Fun fact: The name of the guy who co-created the Clapper commercial is … Robert E. Clapper Sr.)
Just last month, I bought a new phone, the top-of-the-line iPhone, whatever that is. My chief priority was security. I was about to leave the country on an extended trip and did not want to have to worry about apps not updating or my battery running out after only a couple of hours. My secondary concern was memory, specifically the lack of it. My kid has another belt test in taekwondo coming up, and I need to be able to record his form and self-defense moves at practice for us to work on them at home. My previous phone, an iPhone 5, had as much memory as about 10 pictures and three apps allowed.
When I mentioned my memory problem within 50 feet of Dana’s older brother, who is a bona fide computer genius, I instinctively assumed the flamingo position. I curled up and lifted my knee to my head because he was going to tell me, in buffeting bursts of microscopic detail that I neither wanted nor cared to know, how to solve my “problem,” which wasn’t a problem at all if I would just put all of my crap “on the cloud, dude!” Whatever a cloud is. I’m too embarrassed to ask. (Between us, wtf’s a cloud?)
Apple, as I learned from Dana’s dad, a retired Air Force colonel, so someone who is somewhat detail oriented, offers what amounts to a rental plan: You pay about 40 bucks a month to receive the latest phone. You trade in your old phone for the new one once it comes out. Dana’s dad told me about the plan last month, and the month before that, and around Christmastime, and last year, and the year before that. It still took me months and the fear of losing battery power while about to board a plane before I called Apple. Did I continue to whine at a high level about my 5? Yes. Still, I put off calling. My fears were myriad. I was afraid that while I was just about to close the deal with the friendly Apple associate, Apollo’s school would call to tell me to come pick him up because he is acting out or is sick. I was afraid I’d lose my job and not be able to make the payments. I was afraid I’d break the new phone as soon as I tried to put it in my back pocket.
Mostly, I was afraid I’d like it too much.
The real Terminator is not going to come after us guns blazing. He’s going to snuggle right up against us and offer us unlimited distractions with the click of a finger.
My wife had had enough of my phone and me the other night. She and I were trying to catch up on Vikings, and my dumb phone, which I had not so peacefully placed on the coffee table in front of us, kept dinging.
“You got to choose!” Dana barked. “It’s either that thing or me!”
I admit. It’s true. Even if I’m not on my phone, I am in my phone, thinking about what I’m going to text friends or what I’m going to search on Google. The same is true at work when I’m trying to write. My Word doc looks so lovely, but the Twitter app is just one click away. Twitter, for all of its ridiculousness and abject indecency, is perhaps the biggest time suck since the snooze button.
My defense was poor, ragged.
“Babe,” I moaned. “It’s my family” –– “it’s my family,” as if that offers some insulation from the isolation that my wife feels around my phone and me. It is true that I do not see my family and friends often. They live up north, in Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised, and I have been in Texas since essentially the late ’90s. The entirety of Dana’s family lives in Texas. We see her peeps all the time.
“I never get to see them,” I whined, shooting my buds another text from behind my back about the Penguins game. (“Ducking Murray is Swiss cheese!”) “It’s my way of keeping in touch with them.”
Dana is never convinced. Sending two or three texts is fine. Sometimes I’ve opened my phone to see I’ve missed upwards of 70 messages. If it’s not my four-person immediate family, it’s just three guys: Frank Muto, Stevie Sciullo, and Jeff Walzer. We have enough to talk about to fill a million pages of print every day. No Penguins goal or Steelers touchdown goes un-celebrated. No Penguins goal or penalty against or Steelers touchdown or penalty against goes un-bemoaned. No tiny amount of hometown neighborhood gossip goes un-commented upon at length. And the rock videos. We are the sages of our own four-person microverse.
Better than calling someone, better than writing a snail-mail letter, texting indeed is one wonderful upshot of the personal-tech takeover: all of the greatness of one-to-one or group communication, none of the formalities involved with writing a letter or calling. I’m not saying texting hasn’t foiled me. There is no comparison to the sound of someone’s voice on the phone or the tactile immediacy of a Facetime chat. I wish I would have called my one older brother more often. Maybe hearing my voice, straining to comfort him, would have made him realize the decision to take his life was ludicrous. The last text I sent Adam was a plea for him to acknowledge me. “Bro,” I said. “Let me know you got this. I’m worried.” He called me back, drunk and in tears, with his gun to his head. We made it through that night. We never got through another. I had stopped calling.
Scrolling through Facebook also brings out the hate in me. My feed is mostly just parents pimping their kids for likes and political mumbo-jumbo. Let me check my notifications to see two dozen events that I’m unable to attend or, most likely, not interested in, and 30 seconds later, I’m out. On particularly buzzy evenings, I may leave a comment. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t. I’ve certainly not stopped tapping that little upraised thumb, dear Lord. There are lots of other social justice intellectuals out there who just need that fifth and final like on the Atlantic story they’ve shared to feel the love tonight.
I only recently returned to Twitter. After starting it as a purely Weekly-based organ in the mid-aughts, I abandoned it for years before coming back as a wannabe jokester. A couple of my tweets went kind of viral. We’re talking about 600 likes apiece. Another fun fact: One of said likes belongs to Law & Order’s Jill Hennessy. Funner fact: Danielle Sharp follows me. Yet despite my triumphs (all two of them), I’ve pulled back again. So many rightfully unhinged Dems and feminists yelling at me, so little mental bandwidth between my ears.
A friend once said/posted, “I don’t know how I ever took a shit before Angry Birds.” And it’s equally true of all social media. There’s a new toilet seat designed to increase productivity, but all it really does is slant downward to push you off. That’s fine. We’ll just finish scrolling through Twitter standing up with our pants down around our ankles.
I’d bet that for most of us, social media does more to isolate us than bring us together. My dead brother loved Instagram at first. He thought it was connecting him to the wider world. He was going through a rough time: divorce, alcoholism, long hours at work, loneliness. Connecting with people all over the globe fired him up –– until he realized the connections were only one way. Almost without fail, the only likes he ever received on his photos of mondo-cheeseburgers (and almost all of his photos were of his dinner) came from me. He deleted his account not long before he died, one last F you to the so-called wider world.
My wife is an almost total Luddite. She is so unconcerned with her phone that on weekends when we are all at home together, I have to remind her to check her messages and take it with her when she runs errands. Her idea of “social media” is reading the Huffington Post app. After a month or two on Facebook, the only social media platform she ever tried, she bailed. “People are in my past for a good reason,” she averred.
If not for a few apps, HuffPo and several TV networks, the extent of her phone usage would be completely landline-based. It’s just one of the many reasons I love her. She’s simple, as opposed to simplistic. In a world of wannabe influencers, people like her are refreshing. Annoying sometimes, yes, but refreshing.
A couple of weeks ago, Dana and I went to Italy. It was the honeymoon we never had. We got married 11 years ago on a Saturday and were back to work that Monday. Since the only family members able to watch our son for any extended period of time are in their 70s, we decided now was the time. After a few days in Florence, where we took a lot of great pictures that we shared only with family via text, as I note completely condescendingly, we made the three-hour train trip to Venice for a few days. I was stunned by the amount of not only selfie sticks but people holding their phones out over the water. At one point, while at dinner on some canal-front spot, I asked our waiter, “How many phones, do you think, are at the bottom of the canal?”
“There are probably more phones at the bottom of the canal-a than-a in all the Apple stores-a combined,” he replied.
I would be lying if I also did not say that Dana was twice also guilty of extending her phone a little too far from the rapidly moving vaporetto, or water taxi. The first time I saw her do it I freaked the fuck out a little. “What are you doing?!” I cried. She simply shushed me and finished her video (that she later shared via text with family members only, as I assholishly add). I was so scared of losing my phone, this thing I love/hate, that I almost always stood about a foot away from the boat’s edge as we were moving. My phone was still in my pocket.
My 5 was the third phone I’ve ever owned. I wanted to be able to have the latest IOS and travel apps for my big overseas adventure. I did not and still do not care about the fancy camera. I wanted to be able to once again use my American Airlines app (which was no longer supported by my 5) and for the first time use the travel app that our agent had advised us to download. AXUS worked wonderfully. All of our train tickets were on there. The American Airlines app was not as successful. Even though we had checked in on it the night before our flight from Italy to the states, we still had to swim back upstream through the crowd behind us to check in physically at the gate while trying to board. (Travelers are asked to show their passports and boarding passes every few feet while flying internationally. I think we had to show them to the Uber driver home, too.) My worry was misplaced. Instead of fretting over my lack of technology, I should have been more concerned about the bureaucratic b.s. of international travel. I would have been just as well off with my 5. Now I’m tied into a $40/month contract for a phone that is just like my 5 but bigger, for bigger slowfies alone, I presume, because that’s what’s important.
Maybe I’m just growing old. Maybe social media and personal technology are experienced differently by young people, sharing constantly and every day creating virtual “totems to self,” as one writer referred to them. People my age, Gen X and older, should be dancing in the streets because social media didn’t exist when we were younger. I cringe looking at posts I made just last week. I’m hating this story even as I’m writing it. I am still so insecure that I need to reinforce my self-worth with upraised thumbs and hearts. I count every one, digest every name. I even have a shit-list for “friends” who did not acknowledge my milestone post about my brother. I’ve unfollowed as many of them as I can. I won’t unfriend them because I don’t want them to know I’ve thought about them enough to go through the process of canceling them from my life. Can everyone see how much I truly don’t care?
I think the time has come to step away. The other night, Dana said, “You used to be interested in things. You used to read. You used to draw. You used to play guitar. Now all you do is scroll, scroll, scroll.”
All I could think to say was, “I read half the New York Times today,” which was a lie –– I read two stories out of the entire Sunday edition, two short stories. I couldn’t get back to Twitter fast enough.
Another reason I’d love to grow a spine and step away from personal technology is that I have made mistakes, really bad, really dumb mistakes. One late night in the early days of social media after two, seven Bud Lights, I sought to post to Facebook a video of “Analog Kid” by Rush. Probably because the song kicks ass, it was in my head, and back then, there seemed to be no such thing as oversharing. What I ended up posting instead was a YouTube clip of Angela Lansbury masturbating in a tub. I had been doomed, again, by a mix of cheap beer, tiredness, and my clunky phone’s infinite unresponsiveness. Several likes and one highly shocked comment convinced me to not delete the post. I thought that if I removed it, the dozens of “friends” who had seen it might think I was trying to hide something, an old lady fetish perhaps. That clip probably still sits in my feed somewhere if you scroll down long enough.
That was one mistake. I made another awesome one just this past fall. I was on the couch in my living room watching a TCU football game on TV, and the camerapeople kept cutting away to the purple-sequined dance squad. “Hmm,” I thought like any reasonable, self-respecting douchebag idiot. “Those young women are attractive. I’d like to look at pictures of them on my stupid fucking phone.” Since this was on a Saturday afternoon, Dana and I were also making dinner plans for us and her parents, who were on the way to our house from Georgetown to help babysit Apollo. From the kitchen, my wife asked me to look up some recipes on my phone to share with her and her mom. All of that searching, scrolling, trying to watch the game, searching, scrolling, searching, trying to spy the dance squad, searching, scrolling, unresponsiveness, and searching and scrolling some more was apparently too much for my reptile brain. All Dana’s mom wrote after I texted “instagram.com/tcu_showgirls” to her –– and her daughter, to whom I have been married for a decade –– was, “What is this, Anthony?”
No, Google is not to blame for our idiocy. Neither is Facebook nor Twitter. Just a month or two ago, a Texas school lost $2.3 million in a phishing email scam. Even more recently, I downloaded a “virus protection” app from a pop-up ad. A pop-up ad. (The duration of my stupidity may never end.)
I’m not saying there aren’t aspects of personal technology that are cool. I grew up at a time when we had to watch half a day’s worth of MTV just to see one of our favorite songs. We “had” to is correct –– ungluing our young eyes from the dazzle and sparkle of the cathode rays on a lazy summer day was unthinkable and nearly physically impossible. Now we can press a button on these contraptions that reside in our pockets which let us chat with other people and see all of our top videos instantly. Nostalgia is a huge cottage industry for people my age and older for a reason. The Now is just too scary.
The best part is that all of this technology is free. Sort of. In return for your name, age, gender, employment status, income status, location, and porn preferences, you’re granted access to the deepest, most wondrous mysteries of the world wide web. This free-ness (not “freedom”) is to be remembered the next time you buy something online –– or even mention something within hearing distance of your phone.
It’s happened far too often to be mere coincidence: my wife Dana and I chatting at home and then picking up one of our phones, pressing the music streaming app Pandora, and then being regaled with a song whose keywords match the keywords of our conversation. We talk about rain, we hear “Rain, Rain, Rain” or “Love, Reign O’er Me.” We talk about sunshine, we hear “Sunshine on My Shoulder” or “Here Comes the Sun.” Hear me out. There is more computing power in even my measly iPhone 5 than there was in all of the Apollo mission spacecrafts. Part of that computing power is AI. It has to be.
Facebook is perhaps the most hated social media platform and for good reason. Along with the unceasing weaseliness of chief Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook does absolutely nothing to combat false information. There are simple answers to the fake political ads we’ll be seeing soon: disclaimers, full identification of the posters, refutations of false statements with the facts, government intervention. All wonderful ideas but none that Facebook will adopt. You have to wonder about a company that just wants to exploit you for your spending power and do nothing to protect you from disinformation.
In the course of writing this story, I’ve gone from being annoyed by Facebook to actively hating it. I wonder what Patrick Higgins thinks.
Patrick is one of my top posters. Patrick is a super-nice, super-talented guy and a contributor to this very magazine. Patrick loves him some Facebook. Patrick, why you love you so much social network?
“My [social media] consumption has been a thing I’ve wanted to cut back on/cut out completely for quite a while,” he wrote me, “and I have, quite a bit actually. I use it about half the amount I did a few years ago. I wouldn’t say I’m as active as some, maybe still more so than others.
“Mostly, it’s just out of habit,” he continued. “I find a moment I’m not occupied with something else and just pick it up to see what’s going on. Mainly just a couple minutes here or there, discounting weekend mornings when I’ll really read a lot of content (news, articles, etc.) while I have coffee. I’ve certainly cut the amount of posting I do, either in original posts or comments on others. Mostly just share memes now, haha.
“I’d give it up for good,” Patrick continued, “but it still serves some of its original chaotic good intentions. I’m a dad of young kids. My wife and I work opposite schedules and therefore don’t get out much. There are still the rare, genuinely engaging interactions with friends and acquaintances, mainly in a few private groups I’m in. I mostly read media (political, sports, music, pop/nerd culture, etc.). Plus, it’s the best way to stay in the know about the local music scene, I’ve found.”
Patrick is also a little pissed about how Facebook is handling its massive size and reach, commercially and politically.
“Most of the re-evaluation of my use of FB has been brought about by recent years and [Zuckerberg’s] purely profit-focused objectives with data mining [and] failure to address misinformation that has real-world negative consequences. … I’m certainly not ignorant of it, but I’ve still somehow allowed myself little justifications to keep from completely going off the grid.”
What Patrick is saying is what I’m saying. We are addicted to being manipulated just to not be alone.
“Unequal knowledge about us produces unequal power over us, and so epistemic inequality widens to include the distance between what we can do and what can be done to us,” writes Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff in her new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. “Data scientists describe this as the shift from monitoring to actuation, in which a critical mass of knowledge about a machine system enables the remote control of that system. Now people have become targets for remote control, as surveillance capitalists discovered that the most predictive data come from intervening in behavior to tune, herd, and modify action in the direction of commercial objectives. This third imperative, ‘economies of action,’ has become an arena of intense experimentation. ‘We are learning how to write the music,’ one scientist said, ‘and then we let the music make them dance.’ ”
The “them” here is us. The dancing is voting a certain way or buying stuff.
In 2012 and 2014, Facebook “planted subliminal cues and manipulated social comparisons on its pages, first to influence users to vote in midterm elections and later to make people feel sadder or happier,” Zuboff writes. “Facebook researchers noted two key findings: that it was possible to manipulate online cues to influence real-world behavior and feelings and that this could be accomplished while bypassing users’ awareness.”
In 2016, Google unleashed Pokemon Go, a phone game that “tested economies action on the streets,” Zuboff writes. “Game players did not know they were pawns in the real game of behavior modification for profit, as the rewards and punishments of hunting imaginary creatures were used to herd people to the McDonald’s, Starbucks, or local pizza joints that were paying the company for ‘footfall,’ in exactly the same way that online advertisers pay for ‘click through’ on their websites.”
One thing that surveillance capital doesn’t do is drive innovation. “A new era of economic research shows the critical role that government and democratic governance have played in innovation and suggests a lack of innovation in big tech companies like Google,” Zuboff writes. “Surveillance capitalism’s dominance is not dedicated to the urgent challenges of carbon-free energy, eliminating hunger, curing cancers, ridding the oceans of plastic, or flooding the world with well-paid, smart, loving teachers and doctors. Instead, we see a frontier operation run by geniuses with vast capital and computational power that is furiously dedicated to the lucrative science and economics of human prediction for profit.”
In his forthcoming book, The Decadent Society, author Ross Douthat laments that we once traveled faster, built bigger, lived more. Now, he says, “we communicate faster, chatter more, snap more selfies. We used to go to the moon. Now we make movies about space –– amazing movies with completely convincing special effects that make it seem as if we’ve left earth behind. And we hype the revolutionary character of our communications devices in order to convince ourselves that our earlier expectations were just fantasies, ‘Jetsons stuff’ –– that this progress is the only progress we could reasonably expect.”
Ideas are becoming harder to find. According to a paper of nearly the exact same name in 2017, a group of economists presented “a wide range of evidence from various industries, products, and firms showing that research effort is rising substantially while research productivity is declining sharply.”
Over the years, Douthat says, progress has gone from multidimensional –– energy, transportation, medicine, communications, the built environment –– to one-dimensional: tech only.
At least Facebook and its hot property Instagram tried to beat back the doxing of the Ukraine whistleblower. Twitter did not, allowing major doofus Donald Trump Jr. to tweet the name to his four million followers.
A person on Twitter came after me not too long ago, claiming I was not paying our freelancers, which is typical of the social media age –– attention whores love taking to Twitter or Facebook or wherever to complain they’re not being paid for their writing/“writing” or art/“art.” I told Twitter I was being harassed. Twitter said too bad, just block them, which I did. Note to writers: The airing of grievances in public is for Festivus only. I still don’t know which Weekly writer(s) the attention whore was referring to. *yawns, stretches, takes bath in $100 bills*
I hate my phone. But I love my phone. The Revolution won’t be televised. Only the slow, inexorable decline of Western Civilization will, and I’d like to add my two cents –– after a couple of Bud Lights.