Technology and the Illusion of Choice

In a world of 7.5 billion people, we all understand how complicated life can be in a digital age. But for the most part, the global community is expected to see the world through the eyes of 2-3 political ideologies. If only life was as simple as right or wrong, yes or no, good and evil or left and right. Welcome to the world of binary thinking.

Many would argue that it's our love of technology and social media that is polarizing and dividing people rather than uniting communities. A lifetime of playing too many video games has heightened my senses to the illusion of choice in almost any story arc. But, during my time in lockdown, I have allowed myself to daydream and wonder if the same technology could have a similar impact on our own lives.

Choose your own adventure

From the moment I open my eyes, I am bombarded with a ready-made narrative for the next 16 hours. Twitter trends and news headlines fuelled by freshly made press releases will determine the conversations for the day. Meanwhile, Netflix will send a notification of the latest must-watch TV show that I need to binge to ensure I can take part in virtual water cooler moments throughout my increasing list of WhatsApp chat groups.

Meanwhile, other social media channels seamlessly feed me my own worldview and opinions back to me. Elsewhere, the rise of native advertising continues to blur the lines between news stories and advertising.

As I flirt with cabin fever, I have an overwhelming desire to break free from my echo chamber and bring some much-needed balance back to the universe. But just like the choose your adventure books from my childhood, there is an increasing feeling that no matter what road I choose, my day will end the same in a Truman Show like existence.

Considering that six media giants now control 90% of what we all read, watch, and listen to, it's no accident that life can feel like a simulation of sorts. The media is often accused of using dichotomies such as race, sex, political, or religious affiliation to divide and conquer audiences by manipulating and playing on their fears and emotions. But technology was supposed to unite us, rather than divide us, so how did we get here?

The first casualty of our addiction to technology is nuance

Unfortunately, many are increasingly hiding behind the technology and devices that were designed to bring people closer together. Have you ever received an email from someone that sits just a few desks away, rather than have a quick face to face chat? The problem with digital communication is it removes all of our human senses from a conversation.

We take these nuances in human communication for granted. Eye contact, animated gestures, body language, and intonation of our voice are entirely removed from a conversation. These visual and audio cues are what help us find common ground with each other. But they are all lost when staring into a black mirror. 

There are also endless debates on the importance of adding nuance in discussions around our usage of technology. Debates around working from home vs. the office are further examples of not only a lack of nuance but binary thinking too. Ultimately, there is no such thing as right and wrong, only human opinion.

Are we living in The Truman Show?

The Truman Show was released over twenty years ago. At the time, the concept of people tuning in and watching the mundane elements of someone's life seemed absurd. But what happened next proved that life can be stranger than fiction. "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented," explained Christof (Ed Harris) in the movie. 

In a world of fake news, followers, and friends, where we are presented with a daily narrative across a myriad of devices, these words feel more poignant than ever. Two decades later, many are even suffering from what is described as a Truman Show delusion. The good news is that seeds of change have been planted, and a global lockdown is waking people up from sleepwalking their way through their lives.

After months removing screen time bans and binge-watching our way through boxsets and endlessly scrolling down social media timelines, we are collectively craving something different. We are becoming increasingly aware of how technology and media are attempting to manipulate and divide us. 

We want more from life than shopping, watching TV and working 9-5. The new normal promoted repeatedly on television screens is being dismissed as abnormal. Tracing apps and governments monitoring browsing habits are being seen as a power grab. But I remain hopeful that advances in technology will eventually free workforces from performing robotic and mundane, repetitive tasks in jobs they despise.

Technology cannot compete with human communication, critical thinking, strategy, imagination, creativity, and vision. We also need more than 2-3 political parties to reflect the diversity of thought that makes us all so unique. If we combine the best of being human and technology, maybe we can create an alternative narrative far away from the algorithms handful of media companies that are currently shaping our worldview.

People are increasingly waking up the fact that their reality is merely their own perspective. What if we dared to look beyond those perceptions and obtain a deeper understanding of the reality behind the reality we perceive? Like Truman Burbank, I will leave you with that thought and say, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.

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