What are you feeding your mind? The existential threat of Big Tech

Just last week I was offered a job.

A bread-and-butter-type job that a 23-year-old university student with barely any cents to his name couldn’t pass up.

The only catch was that it kinda went against every single thing I believe in…. That is, since I recently read a book by Franklin Foer called World Without Mind.

In his own words, “This is book about the world of ideas and about what happens when we no longer properly value that world.”  

According to Foer, thanks to the big tech companies of Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, we as a society have come to regard words — and I would add to that ideas more generally — as “disposable goods”. You only have to look at the crap that is dredged up every time we log onto Facebook to see the extent of this giant fatberg.

Our news-feeds have become like our rivers and beaches, clogged with clickbait articles that do nothing but take up space, polluting and endangering the lives (and minds) of its inhabitants.

They say nothing in this world comes cheap, but apparently when it comes to writing and journalism it does… for you see this job that I’ve been offered requires me to write fluff, no, even less than fluff, words on a page that I was told MIGHT NOT EVEN GET READ.

So what’s the point, I hear you ask?

To generate traffic.

Disposable content, articles and pieces are being deliberately engineered, churned out on a regular basis and dumped into our news-feeds not to help us stay informed with what’s going on in the world but simply to keep us glued to our screens, generating interest and in turn revenue for the bankrolling advertisers.

Like. Comment. Share. Repeat.

The result? According to Foer, an era of polarization and “filter bubbles”. A world of “confusion, conformism and, sadly, stupidity”, where the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives vanish, where our long-held beliefs and biases are not challenged but regurgitated back to us. In short, a world without mind.

But there IS hope…

Just as we as a society have recently woken up to processed foods and turned back the clock as it were — looking for organic, farm-to-table alternatives — we as readers, consumers and users of the Internet have the power to rescue ourselves from advertising’s grip…

“A nontrivial percentage of the populace now stridently cares about what it puts in its mouth, which suggests it can be persuaded to apply the same care to what it ingests through its brain.”

Big tech aspires to understand our lives and habits in such great detail that they can use this information to keep us wanting more.

So, using this logic, if we choose to be mindful of the types of stuff that we are reading, sharing and commenting on, aim to be aware of the sources we choose to get our news from, and are actively-searching for alternative ways of getting information and sharing ideas, our news-feeds will start to reflect this and could actually turn into something worthwhile and valuable.

Like at the supermarket, when we log onto Facebook we have the choice and the freedom to navigate.

To steer away from the aisles of clickbait and find ourselves better and healthier alternatives.

So it’s time to get smart — not only with what we are putting into our bodies, but what we are feeding our minds…

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Written by James Overs

23, Sydney // Arts Student. Admin Assistant. TV/Film Extra. Busker. Guitar teacher. Copywriter // “Life’s what happens while we’re busy making other plans…”

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