Technology isn't simply addictive - it's addictive because it's a servant to business incentives. There are huge departments in these companies that are devoted to this and staffed by incredibly talented people who have skills that could be put to socially beneficial projects but who are now trying to find out how to make you click and how to maximize your time on a certain site, or encourage teenagers to "friend" more products and constantly engage with them.
I mean look at all these acquisitions and mergers - WhatsApp and Oculus and et cetera. There's no way that you can envision these tech companies as the underdog anymore. They're always presented as though they were these little guys who you should be championing - Facebook will overthrow the cable television complex, blah blah - but it's more likely they will merge with them.
I think that overall, ultimately the impact of advertisers calling the shots is a more cloying, complacent culture. For example, it was just announced that Unilever is branding environmental content at The Guardian. How radical or pointed can that content be?
To go from the vision that we would all be free to express ourselves creatively because our material needs were being met, to this reality where nobody has money, people are unemployed, and the machines are harnessed by the lucky guys who Facebook or Google and we're supposed to be happy just to contribute content to their site.
The point is, this is what happens when advertising and data collection is the dominant business mode. We are encouraged to be compulsive. It's not that we're terrible addicts who need to go to an AA meeting and get off our gadgets.
There's also the issue of tech titans throwing their weight around in Washington and lobbying. There was just a Reuters poll that reported that more than half of Americans are concerned that tech companies are "encroaching too much on their lives." That's pretty major, considering these companies were universally loved not that long ago.
One of the big myths about people growing up is that they are "digital natives;" that just because they've been raised with the Internet - that you're very adept at using the app on your phone - it doesn't mean you have any idea about how the Internet actually works.
We like to say the Internet is the ultimate library. But libraries are libraries because people come together and fund them through taxes. Libraries actually exist, all over the country, so why is it such a reach to imagine and to someday build a public institution that has a digital aspect to it? Of course the problem is that libraries and other public services are being defunded and are under attack, so there's a bigger progressive struggle this plays into.
There's this divergence out there between the very small and the very large with the middle disappearing. There is something paradoxical going on where there is this access and we can seek out things on the fringes, but that doesn't describe the overall reality, because the big are bigger than ever.
I work for free all the time, as a writer but also as an activist. The decisions we have to make as individuals are really fraught but also can be really wonderful and we're all navigating this reality to the best of our abilities. But, again, I wanted to take a step back and look at the broader context.
There was all this enthusiasm about amateurism and the idea that people could now just make videos in their bedroom, or blog news stories and share it online, and isn't this great? Now we can do it just for the love of it and not try to be professionals, corrupted by careerism.