Technophobia should really be three mutually exclusive phobias.
- Autotechnophobia: What is tech doing to me?
To my brain, to my pleasure and pain systems, to my memory and learning, to my emotions and homeostasis. Here comes anxieties like the fact that I’m spending too much time on my phone, I can’t focus for extended periods of time on anything, my memory is shot, I am helplessly glued to tech despite the fact that I have an unpleasant experience on them like getting angry at Twitter messages or fuming at the slow speed of the internet or suffering through eye-strain and neck-pain.
2. Fraternotechnophobia: What is tech doing to the people close to me?
a. My friends, when we meet, are constantly looking at their phones every few seconds, they instagram our meeting and instantly engage with whoever’s engaging with their post, instead of me who is sitting right there.
b. My family is gently coaxed by Whatsapp filter bubbles into having reactionary views, against views that are themselves reactionary (gen-Z style ‘liberalism’). That makes them unpleasant to be around. Not because of what they say, but the way they say it.
3. Sociotechnophobia: What is tech doing to society as a whole.
a. If everyone is reactionary, the world is constantly in a state of drama. People make the digital ecosystem unlivable, because it gets populated primarily by trolls, or it splinters into smaller and smaller echo chambers
b. Our leaders make decisions based on majoritarian principles, so though I am innocent, I will get caught like a dolphin in a trawling net when regulations and laws are passed to protect or preserve the needs of the average techno-addict who is nothing like me.
There is an underlying mechanism of reactive negativity to change, a tendency that is itself the currency of the internet and the click economy, which have now been hoisted by their petards. The currency of the Internet and click economy is not action but reaction. This is not the Internet’s fault either, nor the economy. It is a statistical problem. Things are incentivized to get reactions, and you don’t realize 99.9999999% of the people in this equation are the reactors, for instance, how many actors vs reactors are there in the Gangnam Style video. Maybe 20–30 people to create, ie act, and 2 billion to react. Statistically, you’re always going to be part of the latter. For 20–30 people then, the Internet and economy is superbly empowering, a radically superior experience that has elevated the quality, energy, and excitement of life. The probem is, for most of us reactors, we conceptually know of this fact but experience the total opposite, the disempowering hijacking of our faculties and a gentle training to be as reactive as possible to life, not as an ominous brain-washing exercise, but training in that very innocent way, a thing that you do over and over again and whose muscle is engaged quickly, most efficiently, and comfortably.
Having trained this muscle, I turn it against all change that accrues in life, and based on what has changed the most, I manifest that particular aspect of Technophobia, auto, fraterno, or socio, most strongly. So, if the biggest change in my life is that now I wake up to check my messages, log on to respond to emails, and sleep blearily in the dull blue glow of my phone, then it is Autotechnophobia that is the most dominant reactive force against the changes in my life. If, on the other hand, I don’t use a phone myself, being a dinosaur, but notice how the quality of interactions with friends and family is radically different, my particular flavor of technophobia is fraternal. And similarly for sociotechnophobia. All of these I consider operating at the same level of awareness and control.
The key to battling technophobia then, is not to battle technology, but the reactivity muscle that we have inadvertently trained. Take autotechnophobia’s top contender, the destruction of focus and syncopation of attention. It is irrelevant that pre-tech life saw a better level of focus, what’s relevant is that tech has the capacity to improve attention in the same generic way it has the capacity to do anything we would like to do, as a tool in the hands of a workman. The word computer is our best guide in understanding the philosophy of the digital world. It used to refer to humans engaged in computing rote calculative tasks. The essence of the computer is recursion, repetition and recording. We have no trouble understanding the power and privilege of getting to automate boring or annoying tasks like in Modern Times. It strikes us as an unvarnished improvement on life, because it is in service of a worthwhile larger goal that has within it certain inescapable unworthwhile sub-routines. If I can’t tell the goal for which a certain tech habit is a sub-routine, that’s likely the underlying source of my phobia.
Today I have turned my phone into a tool for attention by using the lap feature on the stopwatch. I turn on the timer and begin to read. When my eyes break contact with the text, either by looking somewhere else or by opening a new tab to do something else, I register a lap. The act of pressing the lap button is an admission of failure, and it drives my eyes and attention back to the text, until I must record my next lap. After the event, I have immediate quantification of my attention, and over time a view of its decline or improvement. I can now spend an extra hour in my day at my computer exploring the positive externality of technology: ie having the data to analyze the extent and nature of the negative externality of technology. Then I watch a YT video about irony, post-postmodernism, new sincerity and bid adieu to the possibility of sleep.
The sanctimonious lecturing about sheeple being controlled by tech needs to be replaced by a different sanctimonious lecturing, about retaining the ability to actively choose to be controlled by tech, because that’s just called delegation. If it’s good enough for Musk, it’s likely good enough for you.