The featured image is a work by the incredibly talented Steve Cutts.
Kids growing up in 2017’s digital dystopia are sold one of the biggest lies ever told. That social media is an innocuous online tool to “connect” with friends.
In reality social media has destroyed meaningful connection and replaced it with artificial online packs of “like-minded individuals” who all hold the same beliefs and subscribe to the same dogmas. This meticulously designed, hyper-addictive technology’s only mantra is to keep the audience hooked for as many hours of the day as possible, monetize their attention by collecting data and sell it to advertisers.
Facebook says it has an eye-popping 2 billion users. It is staggering to see how globally, so much of our lives have migrated to platforms controlled and designed by a few Silicon Valley engineers. The exciting explosion of smartphone technology has overshadowed the questions as to whether tech companies should have such an invasive, intimate role in our lives. Leader in tech design ethics Tristan Harris explains why we should be concerned about tech changing our behaviour:
“Companies say, we’re just getting better at giving people what they want. But the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Is each one a conscious choice? No. Companies are getting better at getting people to make the choices they want them to make.”
Young people are particularly vulnerable. Being introduced at such a young age to this addictive, disconnected lifestyle has created drug like dependencies among teens and desensitized many to sex and violence as they are daily exposed to porn and brutality online. This constant stimulation and competition for our attention also leaves many miserable, anxious and eventually feeling they have lost valuable time and years to aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and trying to convince others that they live a perfect life.
Is there hope?
Yet this business model of enslaving us to our phones is unsustainable. History shows that when advertisers and attention grabbers go too far, the people fight back. No more so than in 1860’s Paris when an aspiring young artist named Jules Chéret discovered the “billboard” as a technological innovation in commercial advertising. By creating seven foot tall, brightly coloured posters displaying eye-catching imagery such as half dressed women Chéret quickly became widely famous as a pioneer in art and commerce and others quicky began imitating his work.
Eventually though it became all too much. The constant attention grabbing of commercial advertising stripped Paris of it’s architectural beauty and engendered a social revolt. Parisians declared war on “the ugly poster” and began lobbying the City government to limit where advertisements could be placed, ban billboards from train tracks and heavily tax them in other public spaces.
The government took aggressive action and today many of the advertisement restrictions are still in place which is why Paris remains in many parts a beautiful city, unperturbed by the constant assault of advertising.
Will a similar revolt occur today in relation to social media? It’s difficult to say, we have become so individualized, I sometimes question whether young people still have the drive to organize and mobilize on mass or whether our conception of protest amounts to signing an online petition and joining a protest Facebook page.
But I do have hope. The first sparks of rebellion are already beginning to fly. Figures released in October show that 57% of schoolchildren in the UK would not mind if social media never existed and an even larger, 71% say they have taken “digital detoxes” to escape its constant stimulation, distraction and pressures.
The BBC also reported that pupils in Kent have set up a three-day “phone-fast”. With sixth former Isobel Webster, describing:
“There’s a feeling that you have to go on Instagram, or whatever [site], to see what everyone’s doing – sometimes everyone’s talking about something and you feel like you have to look at it too”.
One Year 10 pupil, Pandora Mann, 14, said she was a bit annoyed at the phone-fast initially, but soon realised “we don’t enjoy our phones as much as we think we do”.
“In terms of the way we view ourselves and our lives negatively,” she explained, “I think people put what they see as their best image forward – it’s not always the real image.”
Isobel said that the ban stopped her from sitting in her room scrolling through social media and encouraged her to spend her work breaks chatting to friends.
She said it reminded her “what it was like before” – when as a Year 7 (aged 12) she would spend more time socialising in person.
Kids today are showing that they are not just the most tech savvy among us they’re also the most tech skeptical. Counterculture movements are cropping up and tapping into the undercurrent of anger and disillusionment experienced by many.
Folk Rebellion is one interesting example. A movement dedicated to reconnecting people with reality, creating a more balanced relationship with tech and ‘living in the present with actual things.’ Young people are gravitating to these movements as they begin to rediscover the pleasures of physical books, reconnect with the physical world and relearn what it means to live a fulfilling life.
The resistance is rising.