Lately, I find myself increasingly concerned with the more sinister consequences of dependence on technologies that offer convenient ways to do all of the things we once did for ourselves.
We once used maps and road signs to navigate from point A to point B. We once ran out to the car on cold winter mornings to get the car started warming. We once wrote personal letters and captured our most private thoughts in bound journals that we secreted away from prying eyes. We once explored the world of ideas through books, newspapers and periodicals.
Now, we use GPS to navigate, so we never need to look at a map again. We remote start our cars with smart phone apps. We use email and social media messaging to communicate with our loved ones and bare our souls. We stream news broadcasts through cable providers or read online versions of once respected publications.
Yes, when it is working, GPS will certainly get us where we want to go. At that point, we may know where we are, but we have no coherent sense of how we got there - or how to get back. Then again, if your GPS always tells you where you are, then it also pinpoints your location for others, some of whom you would prefer not have that information. But since it is for your own safety, all is well.
If you can start your car with an app on your phone, then there are likely protocols already in place to disable your car from a server room hundreds of miles away (whether the car is parked or moving at high speed). All for the sake of public safety, of course. Fair enough.
The platforms we trust with our personal communications and most private thoughts are all literally in the business of reading through that information and compiling data that can be used to manipulate us into buying this product or voting for that candidate, and then selling that data to the highest bidder. Enjoy the convenience of streamlined shopping and voting.
If this seems innocuous enough, consider those who despise you sifting through decades-old emails, direct messages and social media posts, looking for a random utterance they can take out of context, dishonestly misrepresent and then use to destroy your career, your family and your place in society. Community standards must be maintained, after all.
Finally, if the memory hole of George Orwell's 1984 was possible in a dystopian world where physical newspapers and magazines were still the order of the day, how much easier to simply rewrite accounts of everything you see, hear or read, when none of it exists in the physical world. Just fill a few offices with right-thinking, latte-sipping, skinny-jean-clad moderators with sufficient zeal for eradicating
wrongthink misinformation. The public deserves the truth, however much curation it takes to whittle it down.
My recent forays into digital minimalism are about more than just some Luddite fetish for an imaginary simpler time. They are about taking some steps to restore the inner life that used to truly define who we were as individuals. We all want to believe we are more than just the sum of our user data, but if your digital footprint is the only mark you intend to leave on this world, perhaps you are not much more than that after all.