David Brooks on the Scourge of Technology
In this New York Times column, David Brooks says that high-tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and
Apple are in danger of becoming “social pariahs” like the tobacco industry, which makes billions “peddling a
destructive addiction,” or the N.F.L., a beloved sport that “leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.” Brooks says
three critiques are being made of technology behemoths:
Their negative impact on young people – “Social media promises an end to loneliness but actually produces an
increase in solitude and an intense awareness of social exclusion,” he says. “Texting and other technologies give
you more control over your social interactions but also lead to thinner interactions and less real engagement with
the world” – less hanging out with friends, less dating, less experience with actual work.
Their greed – “Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain,” says Brooks, “and they
lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops.’” Examples: Snapstreak
that rewards friends who send Snapchat photos every day; “bottomless bowls” in news feeds with one page leading
to another and another; irregularly timed rewards so people are constantly checking their devices.
Their monopoly status – These companies use their market power “to invade the private lives of their users and
impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors,” says Brooks.
There are short-term fixes to overusing technology – for example, an app called Moment to track and control phone
usage. But we need to face the core issue with social media, says Brooks: These technologies “are extremely useful
for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the
deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive. Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy. Online
is a place for information but not reflection… Online is a place for exploration but discourages cohesion. It grabs
control of your attention and scatters it across a vast range of diverting things.”
Brooks suggests that technology companies should deploy “the ultimate and most disruptive technology” – humility
– and market their products as efficiency devices that “can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline
and there experience the best things in life.”
“How Evil Is Tech?” by David Brooks in The New York Times, November 21, 2017, http://nyti.