American Consequences - January 2018

tour of every state in the U.S. to explore that void, popping into an African-American church in South Carolina to sing spirituals and awkwardly driving a tractor around a farm in Wisconsin. He clearly enjoyed seeing the faces of all those real people whose lives he farms for profit when they post about them on Facebook. And like all good Silicon Valley saviors, he still thinks he knows what’s best for them. “As I’ve traveled around, I’ve sat with children in juvenile detention and opioid addicts, who told me their lives could have turned out differently if they just had something to do, an after-school program or somewhere to go,” he said. “But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.” The people getting rich off of selling us ever-more addictive technologies were themselves practicing the age-old wisdom of the drug dealer: Never get high off your own supply. But we are waking up to the fact that Silicon Valley’s purpose for our lives (profit-making) might not always square with our own hopes and dreams. Clearly the improvements our technologies have brought us in terms of speed and convenience haven’t coincided with improvements in our ability to make sound decisions like whether we should do some heart-healthy exercise or just binge-watch Stranger Things instead. Savvy users of social

media might acknowledge that they are the product, but they are still feeding the beast. Silicon Valley has attempted to address some of the public’s concerns about our collective digital overfeeding by creating new technologies to treat the addictions spawned by our use of old technologies. An array of self-control apps promise to deliver us from the evil of mindless digital consumption by asking us to consume even more digital content. There are now countless meditation and mindfulness apps available for download, as well as strict nanny-style programs that temporarily block access to the Internet when you’re trying to get real work done on the computer. There is even an app marketed as a mindfulness-facilitator, called WeCroak , that helpfully reminds you five times a day that you are going to die, along with a carefully curated quote such as “the grave has no sunny corners.” It’s supposed to encourage you to live life to the fullest but seems more likely to leave users reaching for a strong drink. And yet this is hardly enough to combat the powerful force these technologies have over our minds. Studies have found that even the presence of a smartphone can lead to reductions in cognitive ability – what researchers call “smartphone brain drain.” This is the challenge we’re less eager to face: the demand side, if you will, of the steady supply of digital heroin that Silicon Valley provides. The truth is, we love this stuff, regardless of what it does to our minds. That’s why we keep using it. Research shows that we touch our phones more than 2,000 times every day . The wealth of virtual temptations available taxes the self-control of even the most

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