The Cure for the Toxic Internet?

I go out of my way to avoid exposing myself to toxicity on the Internet. I’m very careful about my use of social media. And I strictly limit my exposure to mainstream news… or anything else I find depressing.

What if there was a social media platform where people treated each other with respect, freedom of expression was paramount, and there’s lots of intelligent and thoughtful discussion of ideas?

Well, now there is! Welcome to ThinkSpot.

Thinkspot is a collaborative community where individuals can explore and exchange ideas in a thoughtful and respectful manner. The platform is an intellectual playground for meaningful discourse.”

I got my invitation to go live with the beta version today and I’ve just started browsing the site. I’m so excited!

Let’s hope it takes off. Some of my mega-heroes are already contributors: Dr. Jordan Peterson and Akira The Don, amongst others.

Big Tech Bad

You might have heard US Conservatives mocking leftist criticisms of Donald Trump by saying, “Orange man bad.”

It implies that we’re getting simpler and dumber, allowing others to quickly dismiss our criticisms at face value.

… And, they’re probably not wrong. As our attention spans shrink, our ability to think properly diminishes.

In recent years, you may be bored of hearing about how Big Tech and Social Media are harming us, both as individuals and as a society. And it’s tempting to mock and dismiss these criticisms as, “Big Tech bad,” or just shrug our shoulders and say, “I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me.”

But in my opinion, we all desperately need to pause, listen and think very carefully about our use of Big Tech and Social Media. What kind of society are we heading towards?

Big tech, specifically Google and Facebook, make their money by hijacking our attention and manipulating us. I know that might sound like a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, but it really isn’t.

Check out this interview with Tristan Harris, ex-Google Ethicist and Co-Founder of the Center for Humane Technology. He outlines the problems we’re facing as a society, why we’re so blind to the real issues, and gives some suggestions for change.

What do you think? Do we need to end the attention economy?

Should we ban all attention-based advertising?

Was Bill Hicks (RIP) right – is all advertising and marketing the work of Satan? (Personally, I’ve long held the opinion that he’s probably correct).

How can we make large companies operate ethically, even if doing so would negatively affect their financial results?

What actions can we take as individuals to correct these imbalances?

Personally, I’m much more careful with what activities I place my attention onto. I quit my Facebook and Instagram accounts months ago, with no regrets. I try to ensure that most of my time is spent on activities which feel truly meaningful to me.

I recommend you seriously reconsider how you use social media platforms and your smartphone.

I also disagree with Tristan Harris about the best solution to these problems. He wants a top-down solution with government regulation. But I think we shouldn’t wait for the government to take regulatory action on our behalf.

I think the very best response is to take control of your own life, your own attention. Take personal, individual responsibility.

Stop giving your attention to things which don’t matter and which make you worse as a human being.

You deserve better. We all do.

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Your attention is the most valuable commodity you own. Are you happy with how you’re spending it?

Facebook and Instagram used to be very good at capturing my attention, often for multiple hours per day. I’m not saying I got zero benefit from them, but on balance I think they were doing me more harm than good. So I quit them.

I now think Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are harming society as a whole more than they’re helping us. I used to be a huge fan of big tech companies and shared their utopian vision of the future. Now, after witnessing scandal after scandal, I eye them with deep scepticism and caution.

Our species doesn’t have sufficient wisdom to properly manage our use of the technological marvels that we’ve been developing at breakneck pace in recent decades.

I think it’s important to admit the truth to ourselves, even when it feels uncomfortable. Putting my ego to one side, here’s one of those uncomfortable truths I’ve realised about myself recently: there’s definitely scope for me to improve how I spend my attention.

Just like social media, I don’t think videogames aren’t inherently bad. But when I use them to distract myself from arguably more important things, perhaps I haven’t quite got the balance right.

Being rich, having expensive possessions, achieving a certain level of success in a career… I don’t think these things are particularly important. I’m not a material person. I don’t care much for social status.

Here’s what I feel is actually important: how I spend my time and attention in the small, day-to-day happenings of life… Listening carefully and attentively to my wife; Grooming, training and caring for my dogs; Reading books, learning and growing.

If we don’t take charge of how we spend our attention, someone will come along and steal it from us. Social media, trashy TV, sensationalist newspapers – they’re all masters of hijacking human psychology and emotions… for their own profit.

What matters most to you in your life? Are you dedicating sufficient time and attention to those things? In what ways are you wasting your time and attention more than you’d ideally like?

I love videogames, I really do. They bring a lot of pleasure and enjoyment to my life. They even help me deal with depression when it hits hard. But I have to be careful that I don’t retreat into videogames too much.

As Jordan Peterson would say, I have to remind myself to do what’s meaningful, not just what’s expedient (or fun).

Engaging with reality, admitting difficult truths to ourselves, and doing the right thing – these things rarely feel comfortable. But it’s important that we do them anyway.