on Technology as a Tool

Technology can be scary. It can conceal its true intentions, hide its thought process and move in massively undemocratic ways, with a select handful of people controlling the content that the majority will digest. Why then, do we spend so long interfacing with it?

It centres around a core principle: if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. Facebook, for instance, makes pretty much all of its money by selling advert space. The longer you spend on their site, the more chances arise for you to interact with an advert, so the goal is to keep you on the platform for as long as they can.

Online companies have a whole bag of tricks they use to achieve this, all honed and perfected to manipulate the lump of flesh hanging about behind your oh-so-valuable eyes. The autoplay feature on YouTube, which means you can just sit back and relax while content is automatically selected and served up without the need for you to touch a thing. The infinite scrolling newsfeed of Twitter and Facebook, making sure you never have to navigate away from their sites to receive the next nugget of content. The buzzes and blinking lights that almost every ad-driven app on your phone will burp out from time to time, enticing you back in to the brightly-coloured, psychological mind trap that they use to capture your attention.

Obviously, it’s pretty easy to criticise, and this isn’t a groundbreaking idea. Plenty of books, articles and think-pieces have been written about the problems of platforms that rely on ad-revenue to stay afloat. I’m no angel, either. I spend way too long watching YouTube videos I don’t care about, flicking through meme pages on Facebook, barely paying attention. It can be hard to drag yourself away, which isn’t surprising since you’re working against professional designers and behaviour analysts who know much more about how your brain works than you do.

The solution I’m finding that helps to wean me off mindless content consumption is to think of technology as a tool, rather than as a source of entertainment. Facebook becomes a way for me to keep in touch with distant friends, YouTube is a resource I can call upon to watch conference talks and educational videos to sharpen my skillset. Twitter is- well, Twitter’s still a bit of a problem. It’s a good way of keeping up to date with what’s happening in the dev community, but at the same time it’s surrounded by more superfluous, wishy-washy rants and a slightly toxic userbase that can be hard to filter out.

By changing my mindset in this way, seeking other avenues when I want entertaining instead of reaching for my phone or my laptop, I’m finding that it gets easier and easier to disconnect, and I’m reclaiming more of my attention away from social media and bringing the focus back onto my own life, instead of a tech company’s bottom line.

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