Law in the Internet Society

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What is the price of convenience?

-- By TiffanyYoung - 11 Nov 2017

We are in the age of Big Data. A time where the value of a technology lies not its software but the information that the software gathers and analyzes. The rise of Big Data can be attributed to one thing: convenience. Google, Facebook, Apple, WeChat? – these companies promise convenience in exchange for our information. These companies hail cashless transactions, instant answers online, and easy contact with friends across the globe as the future of humanity. But at what point does convenience begin reshaping society? I think it already has, and for the worse.

Destruction of Human Connection

Social media promises to help us keep connected with our friends no matter where we are. Yet, by subscribing to this, we destroy the connections closest to us. The common complaint about millennials being addicted to their phones is not completely ungrounded. It’s hard to ignore the incessant pings of phone notifications from endless accounts – Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat – linked to your phone. When everything is an instant notification, it’s nearly impossible to focus on any task lasting longer than a few minutes, including spending time with real, physical people.

I often find myself sitting at dinner with several friends, yet failing to find a single pair of eyes to connect with because everyone is glued to their screens. I have also often sat with a grumbling stomach even though food was right in front of me because my friends had decided taking a photo for the internet was more pressing than nourishing our bodies (I would be forbidden from touching my order while they arranged and rearranged the table settings to capture the perfect photo). And unfortunately, I have too often simply given up after repeating a story twice or thrice, ultimately opting to also simply pick up my phone. The problem is, they realize it’s rude. These actions are constantly accompanied with a “sorry I’ll be done really soon,” yet they continue throughout the meetup. Like addictions to drugs, addictions to devices can ruin relationships.

Destruction of Self

The breakdown is not just happening around us; it is happening within us. We are so enthralled with the online world that it has even changed how we view ourselves. Studies have shown that exposure to social media is correlated to lower self-esteem. At the same time, the thing that brings so much grief also brings great pleasure. Our brains release dopamine every time we get a positive response on social media, and it is this physical response that makes leaving social media so difficult. I suspect the desperate need to prove that we are worthy both to ourselves and to friends on social media drives us further into its gaping maws. Because being on social media lowers self-esteem, online validation means even more to us, leading to more posting and sharing.

Furthermore, the constant bombardment of information means never experiencing boredom again…yet never truly engaging our minds either. Less time is spent with introspection or pondering deeper issues because our brains are never in “default mode” anymore, where we ponder the day’s events and life in general. We also exercise our memories less since any information we want is at our fingertips. And studies have shown multitasking leads to less productivity and efficiency, but again, it is nearly impossible to ignore the endless pings that demand our attention. So, as technology grows ever more cognitive, our brains grow ever less.

Destruction of Trust

Rather than trusting other humans, it seems people are choosing to place their trust in the very companies that aim to manipulate them. The introduction of Amazon Key is a prime (no pun intended) example. Amazon Key is a keypad door lock that comes with a security camera and an app. We don’t trust our neighbors to not steal our packages, yet we trust Amazon to enter our homes. And indeed, people are now handing a retail company real-time footage of their homes as well as the passcodes to their front doors.

A more personal anecdote of people placing their trust in technology and the companies that control it: my mother is a very private woman, who refuses even to use her real name on Facebook. Yet, she has no problem telling her phone “OK Google, take me home,” even though she acknowledges she never actually entered her home address. It seems there is a sense of security with our technology. Perhaps it’s the fact that our phones are always beside us – our trusty right-hand robot – so we can lull ourselves into believing there aren’t people behind our devices. But this lack of understanding (perhaps even self-deception) is exactly why China’s social credit plan even has a chance of working.

Baby Steps

It is easier to never get into this kind of perpetually plugged-in life than it is to exit after experiencing the convenience. Many of my friends have attempted repeatedly to deleted social media applications from their phones but would inevitably cave and reinstall after a few weeks. Luckily, I never made the initial download, though even then it was hard to put down my phone since it could access the web anywhere.

I think the approach my friends took was not quite right; we have built a way of life around our devices, so we will need time to remove ourselves from that. I think it is possible to grow independent of our electronic minds, albeit slowly and possibly requiring a safety net. I have recently turned off my phone data entirely; I now only use it as a telephone while on the go and utilize its computing capabilities while on to a trusted web connection. Of course, I still have a data plan, so I know if I really need it (say, if I was hopelessly lost in a new city) I could always pull up Google Maps. But I think riding a bike with training wheels is still better than just letting someone else take the wheel.

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Revision 1r1 - 11 Nov 2017 - 01:16:06 - TiffanyYoung
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