Your online world keeps you connected but holds you in. It’s time to burst free and find out what life really holds.
By Andy Marken
“Let’s not shoot the crazy end-of-the-world machine just yet.” —Marshall Jack Carter, Eureka, NBC, 2006–2012
A few months back, we were fighting to stay awake and pay attention during one of those vibrant technology-forward conferences when a speaker bounded onto the stage and told the glazed-eye audience:
- We’re living in an era of significant change
- Everyone is connected, all the time
- Devices are increasingly smarter and more helpful—thanks to tech like AI
- We’re in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution
He made us pay attention because he was far from boring, and in his way, he was right. First, a hint for speakers: If you’re enthusiastic, your audience will get enthusiastic and interested. Second, if you squint really hard, you can see the future and how good things are gonna be. The problem is we spend so much time looking for and talking about tomorrow, we forget to look around and understand how most folks are actually living in today, today.
We’re talking about in our normal world of Northern California and the Silicon hideouts in Beijing, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo, Paris, Tel Aviv, Seoul, Tokyo, NYC, Boston… you name it; generally sane people who believe certain things are normal. You know, the real world. We thrive/survive in these bleeding-edge technologic environments.
In these real worlds, normal is:
- $1 million starter home
- One in every four cars on the road is a Tesla, one is a crossover, two are simply cars
- Everyone carries (and uses) two smartphones, all the time
- Everyone has subscriptions too and watches Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Tubi TV, Apple TV+, Disney+, Apple +, and six other national/international OTT channels of content on every screen, all the time
- People regularly talk to Siri, Alexa, or Google, which talk to everything in the house behind our back and whisper stuff to the outside world
- Folks wear smart devices to check and ensure they are alive
Yep… all of this is perfectly normal!
People who are forced—or force themselves—to escape these silicon-connected environments quickly discover something is terribly wrong. Only a little over half of the world’s population is online.
The average per capita annual income worldwide is $10,298. That could be why an electric car, smartphone, streaming media, and other things that are “normal” in the fourth industrial revolution enclaves aren’t really important to most of the folks on the planet. The vast majority of people in the world aren’t worried about having the newest smartphone or tablet. They’re more concerned about putting food on the table for their family.
- 46% of the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 a day
- You need only $4,210 to your name to be among the wealthiest 50% of the world’s population
- 7.3 billion people don’t receive essential (basic) health care services
- Half of the people living in poverty are under the age of 18
- Half of the world population (females) are not working at their full potential
- Half of the world population will be malnourished by 2030
But that’s OK because the leaders of the Silicon Whatevers are different. They are entrepreneurs/creatives who are driven by passion and purpose, and working for the common/greater good. They understand they are doing what is right/necessary. Who can resist being part of a meaningful project of global scope, while making a profound difference?
And so, these folks are given huge sums of money to perfect stuff that will enrich people’s lives and make things easier and better for them like:
- A special juicing machine that will sell for hundreds of dollars and make investors huge sums of money. It doesn’t really matter if it is a $10 squeezer, it’s a valuable addition to your smart home.
- Enhanced grooming tools like a three-headed electric toothbrush that will clean your teeth in under 20 seconds so you can get back to your phone to text, post, take a selfie, gameplay.
- A great AI-based kiddie game that will teach little ones words/meanings—doing a much better job than old-fashioned books and parents.
- Toys, devices that capture what you did, where you went, what you looked at/thought about, so someone can do a better job of making more things you want/need.
- Everything with “smart” in its name—smart flip-flops, smart hairbrushes, smart mirrors, smart toasters, smart diapers, smart baby monitors, smart scooters, smart baby bracelets, and more smart stuff because you can’t be trusted alone with yourself or to talk with/work with/raise kids.
- Facial recognition tools that will pick bad people out in a huge crowd as well as “a little” personal/personality profiling because the more we know about you… the more we know.
- A big data/socio-psychology AI solution to pinpoint exactly what a customer wants and when she/he wants it—even before they know it. Yes, it does mean tracking folks 24/7, but they will be happier.
- Smart bots that will handle customer contact to free people to focus on really important things that matter… stuff.
In a world that is increasingly rich in digital information and opportunities, participants have focused on developing things that will augment/enhance people’s lives. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how my wife raised our kids, because moms are constantly reminded that new technology will help them protect their kids from:
- External risks that are everywhere
- Poor nutrition
- Really dirty clothes
- Social exclusion
The focus of many of the unicorn businesses has been to get bigger, and people are told, “It’s nothing personal… it’s just business,” or “You have to have a thick skin.”
Instead of helping people, they’re eroding privacy, while reducing self-reliance and individualism. People have become trapped in a hyper-connected world where we’re only a short grasp away from emails, text messages, tweets, status updates, newsfeeds, pings, self-reinforcement, and more.
Getting online is easy, and getting addicted to social media is even easier. The problem is it’s a never-ending treadmill of keeping up. Disconnecting (even for just a few hours) requires focus, concentration, and real determination. As a result, physical contact, personal trust, and relationships have become more scarce and more valuable since they are harder to come by.
Remember when folks said talk is cheap? All our online activities have taken us away from face-to-face social interaction. Activities that don’t involve screens have declined. People have less sleep, spend less time with extracurricular activities, less time reading magazines, newspapers, books. And according to multiple studies, all of the increased digital connectivity has made people less happy, less connected with “real” people.
According to a study by Twenge & Campbell, individuals who spend five hours or more a day on social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users. And heavy Internet users are twice as likely to be unhappy as light users.
Overall, digital media activities also result in less connection with those around them.
A number of psychologists have come to this conclusion because heavy users compare their lives with the images/activities on the screen and find their lives lacking similar excitement. In other words, people who spend more time on electronic devices are less happy. “Here’s the bottom line,” said researcher Melissa Hunt. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in depression and loneliness, and the fear of missing out and anxiety can be quickly overcome/replaced.”
While it’s ironic that reducing social media makes you feel less lonely, Hunt noted that the results make sense because people compare their lives to those on Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, TikTok, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, or other social media. Watch them and listen to them, and it’s easy to determine those people have a better, more exciting life.
There’s no magic amount of time for using social media, but most researchers say that limiting time to 30 minutes per day can improve an individual’s well-being. You could probably drop some or even lots of the sites, and the only folks who would really miss you are the advertisers and the apps’ marvelous tracking mechanisms.
Cut back, and you’ll probably find you haven’t “ruined” your relationship with your friends/family, and you will probably understand what Nathan Stark meant when he said, “Good job…. Wow, that didn’t even leave a bad taste in my mouth.”