In my last article I come off as a technophobe of a sort, or at least a techno-skeptic, and weird as that might sound, I think this perception might actually be accurate. I think of technology as a tool for solving problems and doing things that you want to do. If it creates more problems than it solves, does it really fulfill its purpose?
I’m a techno-skeptic (with a dozen working computers of all kinds in the household) because I see how people use technology. If someone was spending his life hanging out in a bar and wasting time in superficial, shallow conversations, we would recognize this as socially unacceptable, something worthy individuals don’t do. However, this is exactly what social media is: shallow people wasting time in superficial quasi-dialogue, and it’s all worthless and going nowhere. The only one actually profiting from it all is the bar owner.
Technology gives every kid an opportunity to become the smartest person who ever lived. You can buy a Raspberry Pi for a few dollars, plug it into a TV, keyboard and mouse, and install a free Linux OS on it that allows you to access the vast tomes of knowledge on the web, play multimedia and write code in multiple programming languages. And how many use it for that? How many of you did sudo apt-get install gcc?
For 200 EUR you can buy a smartphone that’s actually a 8-core pocket supercomputer with Geekbench 3 score of over 4000. You can load it with a library of books and music, you can use it to access Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha, you can use it as a multiple-language dictionary, interactive road map with satellite navigation, you can use it to SSH-connect into a remote server, to write and execute Python code, essentially you can do everything a personal computer can do, that doesn’t require a keyboard and a big screen. Its price makes it accessible to almost anyone, and even for 50 EUR you can get a device that gives you most of those capabilities. Based on that, you would expect the people who own such devices, and the even more powerful ones, to be the smartest and most capable of all people who ever lived. Instead, they are barely literate, with poor mental focus, disastrous social skills, horribly limited general knowledge, are ignorant of history, philosophy, politics, art and science, they have very poor understanding of technology in general, and people in the 19th century would see them as retarded scum that lacks both education and proper upbringing.
Does it mean that I think that children should not own smartphones and computers? Of course not. My kids use whatever technology they need. They both have laptop computers and mobile phones. They both play videogames. However, they play Minecraft and Universe Sandbox, not Call of duty, and to them computers and mobile phones are not a life-substitute, but a tool. The older one can write code in Logo, Python and some c, and the younger one can tell you everything about masses and composition of planets in the solar system. Guess why? They read, they talk to adults, they use their brains.
The worst thing that can happen to children is to spend too much time talking to other children, because with other children there’s no positive intellectual and emotional differential, there’s just ignorance, prejudice, and a very violent and abusive pecking order. One of the main reasons why elderly people were so respected in the traditional communities is that they used to talk to children, to teach them true and useful knowledge, and do it in a calm and peaceful way that would unplug the children from the frenzy the other children caused. Children are actually the worst thing that can happen to children, because the only thing children usually learn in the company of other children is how to establish an abusive comparative ranking based on usually completely arbitrary criteria, because kids are too stupid and immature to know what’s really important.
And that’s exactly what people use modern technology for: they use it to entertain themselves and to participate in some social network with arbitrary and worthless comparative ranking. They thirst for attention and approval, and dread ridicule and criticism, and in they fears they primarily dole out ridicule and criticism. Essentially, the entire social network is a cesspool of ignorance, prejudice, ridicule and criticism of others and never satiated desire for approval. In order to earn others’ approval, people adopt one of the few memes and quasi-philosophies, and there’s no place for real diversity of opinion, because if you want approval of others there’s only one thing you want: you want a choice, an opinion and a philosophy that will earn you most approval, and everything else is secondary. That’s why you want the best phone, the best computer, the best camera, the best philosophy: you want others to recognize you as worthy and to approve of you.
You know what I told my kids about peer pressure and desire for peer approval? “Just accept the fact that you’ll never be accepted by all people, or even the majority of people. The only way you can get approval of idiots is to be an even worse idiot than they are. The only way to get approval of average people is to be slightly below average. What you need to do is accept the fact that whatever you do and whatever you choose, someone will try to shit on you. Even if you’re Jesus they’ll crucify you. That’s how people are and that’s what they do, and the thing is, you can never know if they are sincere, if someone is shitting on you because he honestly dislikes what you do, or if he’s just jealous. You need to measure your success by how much you are succeeding at realizing your personal goals, not by what others say. If you want feedback from others, ask the adults, who actually have a developed brain and a reasonable set of criteria, not children who are stupid and immature.”
That’s how people are abusing the technology. They use it to try to get peer approval, and instead they get to participate in a giant hen-house as a part of the pecking order, where they don’t learn anything really useful, except how to efficiently insult others and make them feel worthless, because they know what worked on them.
If you only let go of people and their bullshit approval, you can find great stuff on the Internet, stuff that can make all that technology worth while. You can find an abundance of downloadable books and music, that you can store on your mobile device and read. You can find excellent articles about ancient Rome and topology on Wikipedia. You can find analytical tools that can interpret common language queries as mathematical equations. Or you can get caught in some meme in order to get group approval on some forum.
I always use the best technology I can afford, if I find it useful. You should, too. However, to use it in order to create a virtual pub in which you’ll waste time trying to “be popular” is an abuse of opportunity. So, it turns out that I’m not really skeptical of technology; I just think most people are idiots to whom technologically facilitated social networking is as harmful as an orgasm button to a rat: it feels good, but eventually the poor animal dies of hunger and thirst pressing the damn thing all day.