In the age of surveillance capitalism, the biggest corporations redirect the gaze, exploiting the psyche’s vulnerabilities for profit. Even silenced phones light up with notifications that break eye contact and disrupt concentration. YouTube plays videos in an endless loop, queued on the basis of intimate data, so that the emotional rush of one clip stokes the desire to watch the next. Facebook, the ultimate manipulation machine, arrays information to exploit the psychic weaknesses of users, with the intent of keeping them on its site for as long as it can. The hand touches the phone upon waking, even before it can rub the eye or reach across the bed to wake the spouse.
During my years on Twitter, I became addicted to the ongoing certainty that the next click, the next link would bring clarity. I believed that if I read every last conspiracy theory and threaded tweet, the reward would be illumination. I would finally be able to understand not only what was happening but what it meant and what consequences it would have. But a definitive conclusion never came. I'd taken up residence in a hothouse for paranoia, a factory manufacturing speculation and mistrust.
We live in a time when more interesting ideas, concepts, people, and places can fly by in the space of one 30 minute TikTok binge than our ancestors experienced in the entirety of their localized illiterate lives.
People go on trips to see what they already know is there, what they've already seen printed and posted and videotaped a million times, then go and take yet another image to the pile often just so they can prove to someone else that they were there, too.
As our attention span dwindles, we find ourselves consuming ever more 'easy' media: media that has been synthesized and simplified for our comfort and convenience, meant to be inhaled instead of thought about, stuffed with commercial images and moods.
Corporations, individuals, and experiences are all told they must cultivate an "image" for themselves: something synthetic, believable, passive, vivid, simplified, and ambiguous all at the same time.
As media-based boundaries disappear, we can be everywhere at once and know anything we could possibly want. In this blurred, blended, and increasingly homogenous world, we must be careful not to create new, artificial, and fabricated distinctions in place of the natural ones we are eliminating.
We must be careful not to fill our lives with images of experiences instead of experiences themselves.