Law in the Internet Society

The Awakening from Dogmatic Slumber

-- By LiasBorshan - 30 Dec 2020

Waking Up

I remember the intense shock I felt when I realized just how pervasively my devices were tracking and predicting my behaviors. I had suddenly become aware of the extent to which I depended on my devices. Every time my phone made a beep, I compulsively reached for it. Even when it was not beeping, I obsessively checked my phone to see whether there were notifications that I had missed. The shock of this realization, however, quickly dissipated, as a wave of fatalistic inevitability washed over me. After all, if my devices are tracking my data and predicting my behavior and the apps I use in trying to socialize are doing the same, what chance do I have of avoiding and resisting this violation of my privacy? Furthermore, if all of these devices and apps are necessary to engage with the world and become employed, how on earth was I ever going to combat my dependency on these technologies? The answer was in many ways easier than I’d thought, but in other ways significantly more difficult. This essay will briefly explore the steps I took to secure some distance from my devices and apps in the hopes of providing other similarly situated students with a potential road-map for navigating the complex and daunting process of resisting the parasite with the mind of God.

There are two important aspects to dealing with this issue that I would like to discuss. The first is undoing the habits and patterns that our devices and apps have conditioned us to develop. The other is dealing with the social pressure to conform and use these devices and apps.


Many of us have experienced that tantalizing urge to continue scrolling on Instagram , or that desire to check one’s phone when the familiar ding sound indicating a notification is made. Without knowing it, many of us have been conditioned to behave this way unconsciously. These tech companies make their money by capturing our attention so it makes sense that their products, through behavioral prediction, would attempt to condition our behavior. In my experience, the most difficult step in separating myself from my technological dependence was kicking the various urges and unconscious behaviors that I had developed. For many, including myself, kicking this habit was too difficult initially. Instead, I began by making sure that all notification sounds on all of my devices were off. Just that change alone made an immense difference as it became clear to me just how much I had been conditioned to respond to this constant source of stimulation and interruption. For the first time, there was a consistent silence as my devices had no way of getting a hold of me or informing me of any updates. This afforded me the opportunity to focus and be disciplined with respect to my tech usage. With that in mind, the next helpful step in this process was the slow weaning process away from my phone. During the day, if I needed to do anything technologically related, it would be on my computer. Additionally, I would not permit myself to use the desktop versions of my phone apps as an alternative. This proved difficult as I felt myself having withdrawal-type symptoms and constantly anxiously reaching for a phone that was either not there or not turned on. The apps on our phones and computers promise convenience and stimulation, but the algorithms play off of our anxieties to keep us using the devices. As a result, the first few days of this process were an anxious time for me as I wondered what people were up to, experienced FOMO (fear of missing out), and felt desperately through my pockets for a device to fiddle with and pass the time. Eventually though, it became far easier as I found myself being able to focus for longer and longer amounts of time, without interruption. Within two weeks, I was able to read for more than 30 minutes at a time without feeling immense frustration and a temptation to grab something or do something else or alt-tab to some other activity. As I continued to follow these steps over the last year, I found myself increasingly aware of when I was being interrupted by technology and felt more capable of addressing the issue and finding my focus.

Closing the door on the Parasite.

Even after taking these steps, however it may still seem necessary to use apps like Facebook and Instagram for the purposes of socializing with friends and family. Stopping, in principle, would be nice, but most people that we know constantly use these apps as their primary mode of communication. Unfortunately, there is no way to use these apps without the algorithms tacitly conditioning you and attempting to predict your behavior to capture your attention. While there are band-aid solutions like OTR (offtherecord), which provides end-to-end encryption for instant messaging, apps like Facebook or Instagram will still make suggestions to you and attempt to capture your attention.

So then, what is to be done?

The fact is that you do not need to be tapped in to your loved one’s feeds and be accessible via instant messaging on social media to maintain social relations with them. Any meaningful communications you wanted to have over a social media app can be done securely over email(see GPG) , so long as you make it clear to the people you love that that is your preferred means of communication. In making this transition, most will inevitably feel as if they’ve lost something dear. We are so accustomed to the noise of our friends’ and families’ every lingering thought and feeling that we have forgotten what it is like to be alone with our thoughts. This does not mean isolating oneself from genuine social connection, but instead drawing a line separating oneself from the overstimulation (even the stimulation created by our loved one’s posts) that our devices and apps have conditioned us to normalize.

COMMENT* (I am leaving a comment on my own paper! I struggled greatly writing this first draft in trying to balance whether to give more detailed technical advice or whether to speak more personally about resisting the parasite. In the end, I opted for some personal detail and did not explain how I changed my computer setup etc etc. Does this make for useful information or do you think a more technical explanation of the things that I have changed would be more useful? The reason I ask is because the 1000 word limitation was rather challenging with respect to communicating this info.)

Yes, I think these are two discrete subjects. Most of your essay is about conditioned behavior (whether to refer to this as "addiction" is another separate question), generated by the technology patterns that mimic Pavlov's bell. Your subject is the de-conditioning process.

The second topic is a technology discussion, but it too is built on a psychological investigation, this time in the domain of social psychology, concerning the way in which other peoples' communications habits become yours through the "ethnomethodology" of conformism. It is easier to refuse others' modes of social communication if you provide an alternative, like reminding people you are accessible by email but don't use Facebook or Twitter. You can teach how to encrypt email, or use OTR in chat applications. But in the end you have to be secure in the knowledge that if people want to communicate with you, particularly, they will do so in the way you have made habitual with them. Their announcements, their proclamations, their territorial birdsong and conspicuous leisure and consumption reports, on the other hand, you may well miss. Also not miss, as the nature of your private space expands, and your internality expands to fit the sapce you have made for it.

It's this—the presence, absence and extent of the internality we came in the last five hundred years to call the self—that would be the common underlying subject of both essays. For the moment, this—the history of your condititioning and de-conditioning—is the chapter you are writing.

COMMENT ON DRAFT 2* I have changed the paper to refer to a less committal deconditioning process rather than an addiction, though I am interested to hear why you mentioned in your comment that it is debatable whether to refer to this as an addiction. Additionally, I significantly changed the portion of the paper that was previously dedicated to providing technological advice to instead discuss the social pressures involved in separating oneself from the parasite. In my previous draft, I was trying to make a point of being empathetic towards the fact that people use these apps to communicate with family members. This is why I provided band-aid solutions like OTR for instant messaging. I feel, however, that band-aid solutions that continue the use of these apps ultimately keeps us stuck in the parasite’s grasp, so I have altered the concluding portion of my essay to reflect that. Also, I was curious to get your thoughts on the Signal app.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

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r4 - 08 Jan 2021 - 09:32:01 - LiasBorshan
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