ot so long ago, everything concerning the Internet was exclusively associated with novelty. It was a sort of gateway to a new earthly paradise: the digital revolution illuminated a new economic paradigm; a flat world of open access to information that promised to strengthen institutions, and progress insofar as we would have better informed citizens. Some analysts like Moises Naím even theorized about The End of Power, arguing that the digital forces implied the inexorable decentralization of formerly powerful hierarchical structures.
The truth is that the years have gone by and many of the promises regarding the Internet have fallen by the wayside. In a very short time, the Internet has replicated the patterns of distribution of power and influence of the real universe promised by the flat world as promised by Thomas Friedman. What we have seen is how the players have changed, but on the whole the script was essentially the same, with the aggravating circumstance that in some cases the new digital hierarchies exert their influence in a much more veiled way.
Social Networks a priori seem open, flat, democratic, politically neutral, when in fact we are joining a card game where we play with marked cards
Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of the digital world and a former techno-evangelist, returns to the publishing world with the provocative book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Henry Holt and Co.). The book comes after his influential books Who Owns The Future? and You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto, in which this computer expert discovers some of the most perverse dynamics that occur behind the screen of our Tablet or smartphone. Already in 2011, Lanier began to warn about digital indifference and the hidden dangers behind the multitude of services, apparently free, including social networks, easily accessible from any device. Lanier discovered the meta structure of the network; a network where not all nodes are equal, but some are more equal than others: a concentration of information in a few hands that has its clearest reflection in the stock market valuation of the great technological giants, which are increasingly more important within the global indexes. As Stanford professor Niall Ferguson warns in The Square & The Tower, which analyses our recent history through the dialectic between vertical and horizontal powers, networks have the property of being disruptive with hierarchical powers and then quickly transformed into towers.
In the era of the PC, argues Lanier, the user could establish their own rules—on an operating system we could download programs in a controlled manner. It was an atomized distribution model where the user controlled the flow of information. This power is diluted in the era of intelligent devices where the user is now a simple “subsidiary” receiving content, easily manipulated from a central control point. Social networks and content distribution platforms are the paroxysm of all the above. These are applications that, a priori seem open, flat, democratic, politically neutral, when in fact we are joining a card game where we play with marked cards and where the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has made patent the commercial use of our profiles (filled to overflowing with information that not even our psychoanalyst had before), is only the tip of the iceberg.
Without realizing, we have stopped being free users and have become part of the product. And all that in a veiled way
It is because of the existence of central control elements, besides the dynamics of network theory that by default are never flat, makes them domesticate behaviours, that our cognitive biases are exacerbated and, in addition, are deeply addictive: networks have a component of instant gratification, which makes them deeply addictive—Nicholas Carr explains this well in his fundamental book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Social networks, such as Twitter for example, generate the false illusion of knowledge and reinforce our ideological biases in the medium in which they only replicate what we would like to see and hear. They are not governed by truth, no algorithm has an ethical code; Basically, they do not want us to be smarter or more intelligent, but instead want to maximize traffic and the number of clicks to monetize advertising revenues.
Without realizing, we have stopped being free users and have become part of the product. And all that in a veiled way; hence the great risk. Lanier argues up to 10 powerful reasons to close our account in the social networks which bring:
- loss of freedom
- networks (like television) basically making us idiots
- empty content in what we say
- make us unhappy
- weakened capacity for empathy, which in turn makes political debate impossible and empties our souls
I must confess that I am a Twitter enthusiast, though not so keen on Facebook or Instragram, and although I have not closed my account yet—all told, responsible consumption makes even drink or a good cigar a source of pleasure—I confess that I am in the process of changing my digital habits.