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The front line of simplicity right now is technological simplicity. How do we think well about technology? Because what I’m seeing is that our technical devices are causing an erosion of an internal self, an internal life. Ten years ago if my kid said something funny, I might have told my husband. Now I put it on Facebook. Anything that happens to us, we now externalize, which, I think, erodes an internal self.

Tish Harrison Warren, “Liturgies of Less and More”

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The success of Deep Blue would seem not to shed much light on how expert chess players do what they do. It might well be objected, “ of course it doesn’t; it’s a computer!” This objection strikes me as just the right response, but sometimes common sense needs to be defended by an elaborate argument. We are constantly tempted to regard ourselves in the distorting mirror of technology, and in fact the “computational theory of mind” prevails in cognitive psychology (though it is becoming quite embattled). An entire academic field has its origin in the idea that we are computers. Further, the computer comes to represent an ideal, in light of which real thinking perversely begins to look deficient. Thus, when the postindustrial visionary reasons from the fact that complex systems involve “the interaction of too many variables for the mind to hold in correct order simultaneously” to the conclusion that “one has to use algorithms, rather than intuitive judgments, in making decisions,” he argues from the fact that the mind does not do what a computer does to an assertion about the incompetence of the mind. This seems to express an irrational prejudice against people. For, in fact, highly cultivated human minds can get to be pretty good at sussing out a burning building, playing chess, chasing down intermittent gremlins in a car’s electrical system, and who knows what else.

The fact that a firefighter’s knowledge is tacit rather than explicit, and therefore not capable of articulation, means that he is not able to give an account of himself to the larger society. He is not able to make a claim for the value of his mind in the terms that prevail, and may come to doubt it himself. But his own experience provides grounds for a radical critique of the view that theoretical knowledge is the only true knowledge.

— Matthew Crawford, Shopclass as Soulcraft

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[Note: BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent; BUMMER Platforms = Facebook, Google, etc.]

In the years before Google, the first major BUMMER company, was born, hippie techies were fearsome advocates of making everything information-related free, but that’s not the only ideal they loved.

Techies also practically worshipped hero entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs. Tech business leaders were maybe not as smart as hackers, as far as hackers were concerned, but they were still considered visionaries. We liked it when they got rich. Who would want a future that was designed by some kind of boring government or committee-like process? Look at the smooth and shiny computers that Steve Jobs brought to the world!

So, two passions collided. Everything must be free, but we love mega tech founder heroes.

Do you see the contradiction? Everything is supposed to be free, but everything is also supposed to be about hero entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs make money. How can those two directives be reconciled?

There was a lot of hedging and fudging on this point around the turn of the century. Ultimately, only one method of reconciliation was identified: the advertising business model. Advertising would allow search to be free, music to be free, and news to be free. (That didn’t mean that musicians or reporters got a piece of the pie, for the techies considered them replaceable.) Advertising would become the dominant business in the information era.

This didn’t feel dystopian at first. The original ads on Google were cute and harmless. But as the internet, the devices, and the algorithms advanced, advertising inevitably morphed into mass behavior modification.

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

 

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[Note: BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent; BUMMER Platforms = Facebook, Google, etc.]

More recently, Facebook researchers finally acknowledged what other researchers have found: that their products can do real harm.

What really bugs me about the way social media companies talk about this problem is that they’ll say, “Sure we make you sad, but we do more good in the world than harm.” But then the good things they brag about are all things that are intrinsic to the internet, that could—so far as we know—be had without the bad stuff, without BUMMER. Yes, of course it’s great that people can be connected, but why must they accept manipulation by a third party as the price of that connection? What if the manipulation, not the connection, is the real problem?

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

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[Note: BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent; BUMMER Platforms = Facebook, Google, etc.]

The ability to theorize about what someone else experiences as part of understanding that person is called having a theory of mind. To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head. Theory of mind is at the core of any sense of respect or empathy, and it’s a prerequisite to any hope of intelligent cooperation, civility, or helpful politics. It’s why stories exist.

You’ve heard expressions like “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” You can’t understand people without knowing a little of what they’ve gone through.

Most animals get by without theory of mind, but people need it.

When you can only see how someone else behaves, but not the experiences that influenced their behavior, it becomes harder to have a theory of mind about that person. If you see someone hit someone else, for instance, but you did not see that they did it in defense of a child, you might misinterpret what you see.

In the same way, if you don’t see the dark ads, the ambient whispers, the cold-hearted memes, and the ridicule-filled customized feed that someone else sees, that person will just seem crazy to you. And that is our new BUMMER world. We seem crazy to each other, because BUMMER is robbing us of our theories of one another’s minds.

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

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Americans have always had a strange devotion to the idea of assisted ease. It is an interesting fact that nearly all the everyday inventions that take the struggle out of life-escalators, automatic doors, elevators, refrigerators, washing machines, frozen food, fast food, microwaves, fax machines-were invented here or at least first widely embraced here. Americans grew so used to a steady stream of labor-saving advances, in fact, that by the 1960s they had come to expect machines to do pretty much everything for them.

The moment I first realized that this was not necessarily a good idea was at Christmas of 1961 or ’62 when my father was given an electric carving knife. It was an early model and, like most prototypes, was both bulky and rather formidable. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I have a clear impression of him donning goggles and heavy rubber gloves before plugging it in. What is certainly true is that when he sank it into the turkey, it didn’t so much carve the bird as send pieces of it flying everywhere in a kind of fleshy white spray, before the blade struck the plate with a shower of blue sparks, and the whole thing flew out of his hands, and skittered across the table and out of the room, like a creature from a Gremlins movie. We never saw it again, though we used to sometimes hear it thumping against table legs late at night.

Like most patriotic Americans, my father was forever buying gizmos that proved to be disastrous-clothes steamers that failed to take the wrinkles out of suits but had wallpaper falling off the walls in whole sheets, an electric pencil sharpener that could consume an entire pencil (including the metal ferrule and the tips of your fingers if you weren’t real quick) in less than a second, a water pick that was so lively it required two people to hold and left the bathroom looking like the inside of a car wash, and much else.

But all of this was nothing compared with the situation today. We are now surrounded with items that do things for us to an almost absurd degree-automatic cat food dispensers, electric juicers and can openers, refrigerators that make their own ice cubes, automatic car windows, disposable toothbrushes that come with the toothpaste already loaded. People are so addicted to convenience that they have become trapped in a vicious circle: The more labor-saving appliances they acquire, the harder they need to work; the harder they work, the more labor-saving appliances they feel they need to acquire.

There is almost nothing, no matter how ridiculous, that won’t find a receptive audience so long as it promises to provide some kind of relief from effort. I recently saw advertised, for $39.95, a “lighted, revolving tie rack.” You push a button and it parades each of your ties before you, saving you the exhausting ordeal of making your selection by hand.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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[Note: BUMMER = Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent; BUMMER Platforms = Facebook, Google, etc.]

A thought experiment can help expose how weird our situation has become. Can you imagine if Wikipedia showed different versions of entries to each person on the basis of a secret data profile of that person? Pro-Trump visitors would see an article completely different from the one shown to anti-Trump people, but there would be no accounting of all that was different or why.

This might sound dystopian or bizarre, but it’s similar to what you see in your BUMMER feed. Content is chosen and ads are customized to you, and you don’t know how much has been changed for you, or why.

Another way to see the problem is to think about public spaces. If you share a space with people who aren’t looking at their smartphones, you are all in that space together. You have a common base of experience. It can be an amazing feeling, and it’s a big reason why people go to clubs, sports events, and houses of worship.

But when everyone is on their phone, you have less of a feeling for what’s going on with them. Their experiences are curated by faraway algorithms. You and they can’t build unmolested commonality unless the phones are put away.

— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

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