Social media apps are one of the biggest reasons we pick up our phones. A host of tricks then make it hard for us to put them down. Quitting facebook produces the same physiological reactions as quitting smoking, in part because social media companies hire Attention Engineers who borrow principals from the Las Vegas casino gambling world to make their products as addictive as possible. We rarely if ever hear the term “Habit Forming Technology”. Social media users are experimented on constantly to maximize continued platform scrolling. Modern algorithms driven by AI make sure you don’t decide what gets in and never see what got edited out. We tend to think of the internet as superior to societies of yesteryear where gatekeepers controlled the flow of information. But most of today’s information flows through a handful of big companies that act as contemporary gatekeepers. Who will control the emerging smart surveillance infrastructure, and what will be the rights of the controlled?
When children emerge from school looking for that signature moment of eye contact with a parent, the parent is usually looking down at their phone. We stare down at our devices so often that physicians have added a condition called “Text Neck” to their diagnoses. We would rather text than talk. We’re sleeping with our digital devices and growing anxious without them. The seductive technology that feeds this culture of distraction highlights a paradoxical vulnerability: we are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Online connectivity offers the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We can’t get enough of each other as long as we can have each other at a distance, in amounts that we can control, with the ability to hide from those we’re connected to. By indulging a habit of constant connection we risk losing our capacity for the kind of solitude that energizes and restores. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.
Just like an alcoholic turns to the bottle in times of stress, most of us turn to our devices and social media. Engagement with social media and cell phones releases dopamine; the same highly addictive chemical that makes us feel good when we drink, smoke and gamble. But unlike other highly addictive activities, there are no age restrictions on social media and cell phones. Sitting at dinner with your friends while texting someone who isn’t there sends a subconscious message to those around you: “You’re just not that important to me.” The temporary relief of instant gratification allows for everything at your fingertips. Everything, that is, except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. Social media leads many of us to advertise our lives as amazing even though we’re profoundly depressed. The dramatic increase in suicide rates and drug overdoses nationwide illustrate, among other things, that isolation is dangerous for social creatures. Quarantined by connection, we’ve become addicted to loneliness.
Even in the intensely personal matter of choosing whether or not to go on living, the ideas and beliefs of others can be a deciding factor. Thus it is critical that people are aware, alongside arguments in favor of the right to suicide, of the argument that we must endeavor to live. To stem the awful rise of suicide in our time, many things are needed, from economic security and an end to illegal wars to easier access to mental health care. Yet some of the problem can be addressed just by talking about it. But if we try to suppress the whole subject, if we quarantine suicide from our consciousness and from public discourse, we run the risk of suddenly confronting it alone and unarmed when we are most vulnerable. None of us can truly know what we mean to others, and none of us can know what our future selves will experience. Bear witness to the night side of being human, the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. And if you are struggling today, don’t wait until tomorrow to get help.
Late stage capitalism is an economically suicidal system that doesn’t work for a majority of the people. But as everything grows worse, we’re told that things are better than ever. Of course, the figures used to irresponsibly lay claim to this nonexistent economic recovery are themselves entirely fictional. The number we hear reported as ‘The Unemployment Rate’ is a deliberately flawed number that hides the ongoing economic crisis by excluding those we would otherwise consider unemployed. Even a single hour of work per week is considered “temp” or “part time” and thus “employed” by technicality. And if you’re not looking for work, you’re just ‘out of the labor force’ altogether. But a significant percentage of this country’s potential labor force gave up years ago. They went back to school, began living off friends and relatives, or drifted into the illegal economy. When the unemployment rate goes down and we think things are getting better, they are in fact getting much, much worse.
Though they may demonize socialism publicly, Capitalists depend on socialism more than anyone to subsidize their workforce. Taxpayers send billions in medicaid, housing assistance, and food stamps to poor employees who struggle to get by on Corporate America’s starvation wages. Industry captains could easily afford to take care of their workers, but instead rely on you, the taxpayer, to pick up the slack. This system that produces the worst income inequality in written human history is justified by demonizing alternative economic systems. We’re told that socialism leads to dictatorial government control, while capitalism produces the same tyranny through the Amazon monopoly. The ones who are supposed to be regulated by our government are the ones running it, and they’ve made sure we have socialism for the rich and austerity for everyone else. So it doesn’t matter whether we embrace socialism or not, because any economic system led by war hawks invariably produces totalitarianism.