In my early twenties, I threw on a backpack and hitch-hiked across Canada. Cellular phones were around at the time but I didn’t have one. Laptops were around as well but I didn’t have one of those either. My mother had read online about a decapitated traveller, so most nights, I’d call her from a gas station payphone in the middle of nowhere just to tell her my head hadn’t been chopped off…yet. My travels eventually took me from British Columbia to Quebec, Southeast Asia, England and most of Central and South America. All without a phone and all with out losing my head.
Yes, having a phone would have made things a lot easier at times. Not having to tether myself to a landline or stand awkwardly outside a convenience store to call my mom, would have been nice. That said, looking back on that a trip, without being bound to the greater world by technology, I was more connected and aware of what was right in front of me. I noticed details. For example, I could just watch the seasons change from Spring to Summer while sitting in a field on the outskirts of some small town. I’d be enamoured by the colour variances in the leaves, the bright greens dusted with yellow pollen. I’d see the bees hovering amongst the branches and notice how the light breeze and muted sunlight would cause the bees and leaves to dance together. What a joy it was to sit unbothered in a field and just watch. At some point later, I’d write something about my observations and musings and post it to my blog from an internet cafe. What a thrill it was to log on and post something about my experience.
No doubt, I’ve long thought of the internet has been a gift, empowering us to share information and stay connected.
Lately, I haven’t felt the same way. It feels like ubiquitous technology and digital intelligence has crossed a line. I can’t put a finger on when it started to feel like it had gone too far, but sometime during the year 2020 comes to mind. Of course, I’m posting this on the internet, where I effectively make my living, so I understand the inherent contradiction in my sentiment.
I do think, however, that the game has changed. Not just recently, either. Nearly 1.5 billion people are now using ChatGPT or A.I. chat bots and technologists are musing aloud about the chances of AI ending human civilization (the common answer of it doing so lands at around 10%) but when I began to lose my head (figuratively), happened some time ago.
Of course, I unwittingly played a part in letting this happen. The once thrill of an internet cafe and the blog post has become the drudgery of the daily post, hourly messages, and minute-to-minute notifications that I just have to check.
As it were, I was on the beautiful sunshine coast with my girls, walking along the seashore, watching the stormy waves crash against the pebbled shore. There, I noticed something shocking. As if frozen in time, literally, every single person, whether in a parked car, sitting on a bench or strolling the beach, was staring at their phone at that exact moment. Had it really become this bad? Even the spectacular ocean waves could not sustain the attention of a single soul.
Certainly, over the last few years I’ve noticed changes in how my own mind functions. My memory seems more strained. The narrative inside my head is darker and more myopic. More and more, my own attention is something I have to grasp for and desperately hold on to, almost having to trick myself to do so (I believe the term they use now is hacking yourself to retain focus). None of this is really my fault, I guess; I’m battling algorithms that allegedly know me better than I know myself.
Of course, I unwittingly played a part in letting this happen. The once thrill of an internet cafe and the blog post has become the drudgery of the daily post, hourly messages, and minute-to–minute notifications that I just have to check. I’ve since turned off those “dings.” You see, I’ve read the blog posts and books on how to “hack” and streamline all this. You know, take back your time management so you play the game and not have it play you.
To date, I’ve made other quality adjustments as well. If I post, I post and ghost (so no reading of comments or messages). Rarely do I scroll, and I’ve limited my apps to all but the ones my phone won’t let me remove and a few necessities—fifty total, to be exact. So, why then, does it still not feel like enough?
What I have come to believe is that this level of technology is not neutral and natural; moreover, it has been subjugated by faceless trolls and endless power-hungry bureaucracies. Although I partake, I also despise how addicted I know I am
I mean, you can’t totally come off your phone and social media, can you? Can you?
Society revolves around the smartphone now. It’s a vital “organ” of transhuman existence. Under the guise of convenience, the smartphone is the knife stuck in you that, if removed, you’re killed off from regular society. You can barely order a taco without using your phone.You can barely even park in a city or log into a bank account without it. Every time you are required to use it, it steals more of your time. You go to park your vehicle, a message pops up, you read it, there’s a link sent to review, you click on it, a pop-up for something you like or once looked at appears, you click on that, another message comes in and four minutes of your parking time is now used up. The saying “made ya look” comes to mind.
Already, this is turning into a long rambling blog about how technology is bad and steals your attention. I don’t want to get into how it affects your sleep, how it will be utilized for controlling social credit systems or vaccine passports, what scrolling does to our children’s minds, cyber-bullying, and the lot. That’s all been said before and it’s all available online.
As I said, I think the digital revolution has reached an inflection point. I think that being online has crossed a line. I may be a nostalgist, but I’m not ignorant of the reality that technology and our relationship and dependence on it will slow down, ever. In fact, it is clear now that the last 20 years have been a slow ramp-up for the artificial intelligence boom (or doom) ahead. The transhumanist metamorphosis and ultimate synthesis with humans and machines is an inevitability.
By my estimation, social media has never really brought out the best in me. I wanted to be particularly forthcoming about this last point about posting. I’ve been guilty of fronting success on social media and painting my life so you can see it through rose-coloured glasse
To some, the capability of personal superintelligence, powered by AI virtual assistants, will save the human race. Or show us more of God…
That may be true.
What I have come to believe is that this level of technology is not neutral and natural; moreover, it has been subjugated by faceless trolls and endless power-hungry bureaucracies. Although I partake, I also despise how addicted I know I am, how much of the internet is now just a sewer and how it too often pulls me out of the natural world in front me.
By this point, you know all this. You either agree, disagree, or don’t care. The “not caring” is probably a solid tactic to remain sane in times of rapid and uncontrollable change. “It is what it is and you can’t do anything about it” is what I’m often told.
That’s not entirely true. Sure, I can’t change the endless and ever-present advance of the machine in my daily life, but I can control how I engage with it.
So, what am I prepared to do? I’m prepared to—what’s that saying again—oh yes, bite off my nose to spite my face.
The first order of business is to fly my freak flag a bit and purchase a dumb phone. I’ve opted for the TCL Flip to start but am ultimately waiting for the Light Phone, The Boring Phone or the Punkt phone once service is compatible with Canadian networks. At least then, my dopamine hits will be limited to the laptop screen. Sure, it’ll make me less efficient but I’m curious to see if it will also make my head clearer, inspire more focus and creativity, and increase overall productivity.
Podcasts and music will have to be downloaded ahead of time on a separate device. Taxis will have to be hailed, and as for maps, that may be the biggest sacrifice of all. I remember keeping CDs in a case in my car to keep all my favourite music with me, but I have no recollection of how I ever made it anywhere without Google Maps. Yes, Spotify is better than the CD case, and yes, Google Maps is better than the giant fold-out paper ones (unless, you’re like Jason Bourne and memorize all the streets of some European city after a quick look at a tourist map).
Next, I’m going to stop personally posting on social media. Yes, I’ll still have it, but I won’t be the one posting anything or responding to DM’s (or at least mostly). Social Media is a vital tool for awareness, brand building, and promotion, one that I’m grateful for but apprehensive to use as well. By my estimation, social media has never really brought out the best in me. I wanted to be particularly forthcoming about this last point about posting. I’ve been guilty of fronting success on social media and painting my life so you can see it through rose-coloured glasses. Now, the only posts that’ll be made will be related directly to my businesses, and I will not be the one posting them.
Just to be clear, I’ll write my own blogs (sorry, ChatGPT) and continue to put long-form content out in the world by way of documentaries, shows, books and podcasts. Hopefully, these will provide some measure of enjoyment to those who tune in.
Beyond that, my digital engagement won’t be that much different, just less instantaneous. Most of the calls I make are scheduled and either on Zoom or Google Hangouts. While texting on my dumb phone will undoubtedly be short form, I’ll message through WhatsApp and email from my computer. I like email quite a lot.
This doesn’t mean I’m relocating to a monastic life in a cave and shutting down lines of communication from the outside world. I’m making an adjustment, testing new practices, but I’m not throwing all technology away. I’m not here to make one single statement that stands for the rest of time. Things evolve, I evolve (or devolve depending on how you look at it), and for now, this feels like the right path for me.
It’s really an attempt to try and course-correct the imbalance. Redraw the line, if you will. If I’m successful in doing so, it may just be a Pyrrhic victory.
I know I’m in the minority here. So, maybe this backfires spectacularly.
But I have to try it…I just have to.