I think, therefore I am, often seen in Latin as cogito ergo sum is the philosophical proposition of Rene DesCartes. It is not that there is anything wrong with thinking per se or for that matter sharing per se but rather the problem today is who is doing the thinking and sharing and what is being thought about and shared. How we use social media could be killing us!
We are already having trouble distinguishing reality from illusion and our tech devices are moving us more deeply into delusional thinking and expression. For example, we have college sophomores who are getting advice on dating from A.I.; or neurotic people seeking help from computer psychiatry. And then there is Alexa.
Rachel Botsman told her daughter Grace, who is 3 years old, that she could ask her black cylindrical device known as Amazon Echo or Alexa “anything you want.” “The Alexas of the world will make a raft of decisions for my kids and others like them as they proceed through life—everything from whether to have mac and cheese or a green bowl for dinner to the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday to what to do to improve their mood or energy or even advice on whom they should date.” (1)
In a study conducted by M.I.T. Media Lab, 27 children between ages 3 and 10 interacted with A.I. devices and toys. The researchers asked the children if they thought that the devices were intelligent, could be trusted and if they had the personalities of real people. “Almost 80 percent of the children thought Alexa would always tell them the truth. Some of the children believed they could teach devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.” (1) This experiment begs the question: Do we adults even have a genuine give-and-take relationship with each other let alone high-tech devices?
Our love affair with said “devices” is exposing a major shift in human behavior that is alarming. A healthy identity requires self-reliance and autonomy. We need to feel that we are safe and competent. To acquire that identity means we have to learn to handle being quiet and alone in solitude. Our speeded-up, technology-centered culture discourages both quiet and solitude and our young people have become conditioned to be uncomfortable when alone—they tend to feel lonely.
Feeling lonely, one can habitually reach for a device as a distraction from uncomfortable feelings of loneliness. The persona that many of us present on social media tends to lack authenticity as we vent and react to triggers in our environment by projecting blame on people and events far removed from our personal experience. “Texting and posting let us present the self we want to be, and we can edit at will.” (2) Are we losing the ability to relate to one another, to communicate our true feelings and in the long run to create a sustainable community?
Sherry Turkle describes behavior we all experience and will have to have a serious discussion about. Have we lost the ability to deal with reality or did we ever have it? “I spent the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their devices.” (2)
Rachel Botsman ended up banning Alexa to the hall closet.
Insight # 8: Understanding the distinction between who we are and who we are not empowers us to transcend the illusion that is the foundation for all human suffering.
- True self and False self in ABC’s (link coming soon)
- Botsman, Rachel. “Co-Parenting with Alexa.” The New York Times. October 8, 2017, page 5.
- Turkle, Sherry. “The Flight from Conversation.” The New York Times. April 22, 2012, page 8.