Technology has immense benefits, but it’s also limiting and controlling all of us in ways that many of us don’t realize.
You may think I’m exaggerating, after all I used the word “controlling,” not just influencing or affecting.
In many ways, tech has become an entire sector more powerful than anything yet seen before in human history, with a powerful capability to connect, enrage, inspire and confuse never before imagined.
Technology is also able to be steered and monopolized to make you choose what other individuals and algorithms want you to choose.
Here’s how they do it and what to do about it.
1) It’s offloading your need and capacity for decision-making
First and foremost, technology is changing the way we make decisions and what decisions we make.
We each make an average of 35,000 small choices per day, including 227 just about details of the food and drinks we consume.
Technology now does that for us, from streamlined GPS driving systems to advice about where to eat lunch or how many carbohydrates fit our diet from a quick Google search.
This has made life much easier in many respects, but it’s also offloaded decision-making in various ways that can also leave us much less cognizant of our surroundings and situation.
“Don’t worry about where the destination is, Waze knows best.”
“I’m sure this restaurant is great, it has the best Yelp reviews and Siri recommended it.”
2) It’s controlling your choice architecture
Technology is not only allowing us to avoid decisions, it’s also controlling our choice architecture.
Choice architecture is the framework within which you make choices.
For example, if you can only go to one restaurant and it has three meal options of which you’re allergic to one, your choices are between two dishes.
Or if you are in a store and there are five kinds of drinks you have a choice of five different drinks, all likely owned by either Coca-Cola or Pepsico.
Technology, similarly, controls our choice architecture, deciding which results rank when you search for something, what ads pop up on your screen and which friends’ posts show up at the top of your feeds.
While your actions may shift and modify the choice architecture, the basic framework within which you make decisions is increasingly determined by technology.
3) It’s transforming the work you do
There’s no doubt that technology is massively changing the kind of work people do and how they do it.
Take ChatGPT, an AI-powered tool that writes text and helps provide answers to common queries. It’s getting almost 2 billion visits a month, and 47% of business CEOs in a recent poll said they might use it instead of taking on new hires.
From being a lawyer to government administration, healthcare record-keeping and engineering, AI and machine learning are already transforming entire industries.
Never before has technology so rapidly transformed the kind of work we do.
It’s only a matter of a few years before wanting to be a medical transcriptionist or a journalist in the old-style way will be increasingly unfeasible.
Technology is telling you what jobs you can do and how you can do them.
4) It’s shifting how you can communicate
Technology is changing how we communicate and talk to each other.
When you meet a new friend, business contact or romantic prospect, the first typical question is “what’s your number?” or “what social media do you use?”
Even if you prefer to stick to offline communication or a landline, you wouldn’t have that option for 90% of people you meet under 40.
That’s just the way that things go these days, and the result is that communication is changing:
We get in touch with people in different ways and we talk differently, often with abbreviations, shorter sentences and fragments or short phrases.
5) It’s changing how you play and enjoy life
Technology is changing what people do for fun and how they enjoy their lives.
From video games to streaming shows and films, technology is constantly changing the nature of entertainment and fun.
Even compared to several decades ago when renting a film at Blockbuster was a family outing, technology has now made “renting” a movie a mere matter of clicking a couple times.
Technology changes how we talk to each other and the way we talk to each other.
6) It’s building up serious technology addictions
Technology is also dictating your life choices by making you addicted to it.
Smartphones in particular have become a serious problem, just by virtue of how much of your time they can chew up.
“The average person users their cell phone 2,617 times a day,” observes Marie Soldo.
That’s a lot of time down the drain, time that could be better spent on many other pursuits.
It’s also fracturing your attention span, since much of this time is broken up minute-by-minute and erratically.
7) It’s outsourcing security to systems instead of people
Technology is making many decisions about what will keep you safe that are out of your hands.
From aviation systems to home security, building access, surveillance camera threat assessment, accident avoidance driving technology and much more.
Some of these technological upgrades are great steps forward that could save your life. Others are more questionable, or can also be used to crack down on your freedom of movement and expression in many ways.
This isn’t even about who’s in charge of the technology, per se, but also about the power it inherently contains and the potential for that to get out of hand with the wrong intentions or left to run wild.
8) It’s turning friendship into a consumer commodity
Sad to say, technology and social media is also turning friendship into a consumer commodity.
We are increasingly connected in virtual ways and rewarded (or punished) on the virtual level.
Becoming an Instagram influencer can get you free hotel rooms and meals, while having few friends could make a potential date turn you down and be unsure whether to trust you.
Attention is the new currency, and friendship has become about clicks and likes more than real connection in many cases.
“In social networks, the function of ‘friends’ is primarily to heighten narcissism by granting attention, as consumers, to the ego exhibited as a commodity.”
9) It’s created numerous new needs in your daily life
Technology has created many new needs in life that didn’t used to exist.
One is the dependence on technology and need for it, another is the actual psychological attachment to your smartphone and technology use.
I have friends who become overwhelmed at the thought of driving somewhere based on a map or road directions:
They need their GPS, or at least they think they do.
Even if you’re just going out to eat lunch at a restaurant, being away from message notifications for an hour can feel unbearable and cause anxiety levels to spike.
“What happens when you accidently leave your phone at home or misplace it? Your anxiety level increases and you either go back home to get your phone or spend hours to find it,” notes Arturo Pagán, Ph.D.
10) It’s forcing many former real-world activities to go online
Technology is dictating what you do with your time by making many activities that used to be offline go online.
From playing chess and language learning to seminars and lectures, many things that we used to do in real life are now online.
The pandemic only made this trend increase even more so.
People got accustomed to staying home and working remotely, and now technology has made it that real-world events are much rarer.
Even if you want to find real-world clubs and events, which is possible, it’s far from as easy as it used to be, and a lot of what’s going on is in the virtual space.
“Many companies now provide on-line services and have started charging if you need to do transactions in person or by phone.”
Who’s building your choice architecture?
The answer is manifold: many people and the systems they build are controlling your choice architecture.
Every business wants to steer you in their direction, of course.
But so do governments and ideological leaders. So do propaganda campaigns and misinformation ventures.
We’re in a free-for-all where massively powerful algorithms about what we see and choose are being built up all around us in digital space by many powerful actors.
Somewhere in all this remains our humanity and our desire to make our own decisions, which increasingly means to do what we can to go into digital detox and unplug as much as possible.