The Transylvania Times -

Technology's 'Dark Side'

 

January 4, 2018



For years many people have suspected that our newest technologies, in particular smartphones, social media and mobile applications, may have, in Star Wars terminology, a “dark side.” But those concerns often were drowned out by proponents touting the numerous benefits of such technology.

In the past several months, however, it has become apparent, through events, research and now the words and actions of several creators of these applications and tools, that these technologies have harmful and destructive aspects. Like many inventions, they were created for positive reasons and to generate income while the negative aspects were an afterthought.

“It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences,” Justin Rosenstein, who created the “like” button for Facebook, told The Guardian.

Yet, the developers of these technologies are not innocent, for they apparently knew, or at least had an inkling, that they were using these technologies to manipulate people.

Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” told The Guardian that these technologies that turned consumer behavior into “compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions” were “just as their designers intended.”

“You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” said Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president, last month.

The colors, sights, sounds, photos and words are all designed to make individuals continue to use these products and applications long after the original intent has been met. They work much like drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or other activities to which people become addicted because they stimulate dopamine receptors, causing people to want more.

The negative impacts are both individual and collective. Studies have shown the use of such devices and applications are creating what is known as “continuous partial attention.” Frequent users are unable to focus on one thing for a long period of time. This occurs even when the technological device, such as a cell phone, is off.

“Everyone is distracted all of the time,” said Rosenstein.

The technologies also emphasize the emotional and immediate over the reasonable and long-term, thus inhibiting people’s ability to mature and use their higher faculties. The younger one begins using the devices and applications, the worse the effect.

“Teenagers, even when they are together in the same physical space, they are engaged with their devices rather than each other,” said Karen North, a psychologist and social media expert at the University of Southern California.

Some studies have indicated this physical isolation is a factor in teen suicides. The negative impacts of cyber-bullying have been known for years.

This social isolation at all age levels, however, has a negative impact upon society at large. These devices allow us to say negative things we would never say to someone in person. That fact, along with the ability to post anonymous comments, eliminates personal accountability, thus allowing the most base and false statements to be made because the author knows there will be no negative consequences. The links to other pages also provide a feedback loop of hearing, seeing and reading what just confirms our beliefs and prejudices without any challenges.

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” said Palihapitiya. “No civil discourse. No cooperation. Misinformation. We are really in a bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

That many of these technological gurus prohibit or restrict their children from using these technologies speaks volumes about their concerns.

In balance, these modern technologies do have some very beneficial aspects, be it making it easier to communicate vital information almost instantaneously or to allow us to speak with friends and relatives far away. But there is also a “dark side” that has pernicious effects on both individuals and society. We need to recognize and address the latter so that we are using these tools in a positive manner and control them instead of being controlled by them.

 
 

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