Back in the 1990s, when I was in college, I remember the euphoria surrounding the emergence of the Internet and the new wave of technologies, which was exhilarating for anyone who had their first brush with such tech only in their early twenties. Indeed, unlike the Millennials and the Gen Zers, who are born Digital Natives, my generation (Gen X) embraced technology only well into early adulthood. I still remember the day when I created my Email account through the then “hot and happening” Hotmail. Moreover, Email was something that we checked once in a while, like every week or month, depending on where we lived and how much access we had to the then mushrooming Cyber Cafes. These were named so because the original or the first one in Bangalore (which I visited to open my Hotmail account), served Coffee alongside the Internet browsing facilities.
Fast forward to the present where being “always on” is a prerequisite and not a luxury that a few can afford. Right from Email to WhatsApp to any of the Social Media as well as LinkedIn, the current situation is such that we are expected to respond and react in “real time”, during our waking hours (for some like me who did Production Support, we were expected to react to Beepers in the night as well). While this always on modes of working are for professionals, the idle browsers too spend most, if not all their hours scrolling and engaging with their Smartphones.
No wonder it has become the New Opium of the Masses, as we are addicted to the constant stream of Dopamine hits that our gadgets unfailingly deliver, and that too endlessly and without interruption. As I point out, We Have All Become Junkies, with little hope of redemption, in a messianic manner. Worse, as virality becomes the norm and tech plays an even bigger (or outsized role) in our lives, we begin to live for the moment, as I analyze How the Viral Times are Forcing us into a Present Shock, eroding longer term value creation, and eschewing looking ahead, to struggle for the moment. As any psychologist would tell you, such addictions and living only for the moment can have detrimental effects on physical and mental health, and with our exposure to exponential change blinding us, the slowness with which our minds change, crashes into the virality of the present, causing severe disturbances in our psyches.
Worse, technology is now increasingly being used to spread hate and sow divisions among people, with social media such as Facebook and Twitter having become the new battlegrounds of misinformation and disinformation. The outright fake news that is circulated on WhatsApp is another reason for the many instances of violence, including lynchings and attacks on innocents, which is troubling to say the least, and calamitous to the victims. With Facebook rebranding itself to Meta, it remains to be seen as to how much its new Avatar would address this problem. At least LinkedIn stepped up to protect its position by not compromising on freedom of expression as I laud its stance in this article, Bravo LinkedIn!! Moreover, the easy access to video software means that each event of our lives is lived in the “full glare” of digital sphere with spectacle replacing substance.
It was not supposed to be this way. I still remember the high hopes we had about the awesome power of the internet to “level the playing field” and remove the “barriers to entry” for most, if not all, in their quest to profit from the endless opportunities it afforded. Indeed, I am a beneficiary of the internet and the Digital Age, both in my decade long IT career, and in my next incarnation as a Freelancer who makes money through the internet. The Utopian view of tech as a liberator is now increasingly being substituted with a Dystopian view of Big Tech and its narrow focus on profits, much like any other enterprise in the free market system. Of course, some might disagree with this pessimistic view of a “paradise lost” as newer opportunities arise and the Gen Zers find creative ways to tap into the awesome potential of such technologies. Indeed, the new battles in the Digital Age would be fought over Data as I point out here, With Data being the New Oil, a look at how the future would be shaped over access to data.
On the other hand, reality meets hope as the desire for making money collides with the very real Law of Diminishing Returns. With Moore’s Law dictating evolution of tech (with exponential acceleration being the norm) and with diminishing returns being the outcome, the net result is having to work more for less, as this article, Why Do We Feel So Overwhelmed? explains. Indeed, Big Tech is raking in the Billions while the average professional is finding fewer opportunities, with more competition, triggering a “race to the bottom”. While I have lauded LinkedIn earlier in the article, I also believe that its power to make everyone rich is overblown as I caution how, We Are All Drinking the Kool Aid of Aspiration on LinkedIn,
Being online always is like being on a Treadmill to Nowhere, as this piece points out how All of Us Are Living a Sisyphean existence (named after the Greek mythological figure, who rolls up a boulder up the hill, only to find it rolling down, repeating the iterations ad infinitum), leaving us with a hopeless quest for redemption, which never comes. Moreover, the COVID Pandemic has deepened our dependence on tech, and The Only Good is that the Pandemic has ushered in the Digital Age. While this can be for the good or worse, the reality is that Technology has become indispensable and something as basic as air, water, and food, without which, we cannot live. From being a side hobby to evolving to creator of wealth, to the present where it defines us and our lives, tech has come a long way and hence, I conclude with a passing comment on the weirdness of our present lives, which has become the New Normal.
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