Last month on HBO’s ‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ the outspoken TV personality compared the tech giants in Silicon Valley to tobacco farmers and declared “social media is the new nicotine.” I would have to disagree with him.
Unlike tobacco, cigarettes kill people. Technology (and consuming too much of it) does not. One can also live without any tobacco in their life. But unlike tobacco, I would argue it is becoming near impossible to live without technology. It is permeating every aspect of our lives, moving beyond communications, retail and media into everyday items, such as cars, wearables, household goods and smart homes. Sure, you could get by without any technology but it would be very challenging and you would miss out on the benefits it provides.
I think Bill’s comparisons to processed food are more on point than his comparisons to smoking. Technology companies are like Big Food. The processed food industry has been engineering what we eat for decades, using ingredients such as salt, fat and sugar to make us crave and consume more than we normally would. Similarly, technology companies are using neuroscience techniques with the same intentions, to make us crave and consume more than we need. Because the more we consume, the more profits they make.
Even though I don’t agree with Bill’s tobacco metaphor, I am glad he highlighted this topic and hopefully his segment will open his audience’s eyes to a growing issue. Better to see it for what it really is so people realize they have a problem and hopefully address it. There are ways to use technology without succumbing to its addictive nature but it requires awareness and a willingness to change behaviour.
As Bill said, “Philip Morris just wanted your lungs, the app store wants your soul.” This may sound like a wild exaggeration but there is some truth to his bold statement. And now is the time to do something about it, before we mindlessly slip further into technology’s alluring black hole.
I have a curious mind and many interests. I like to spend time musing about things and this is where some of my musings end up. I would love to hear from you if you have a thought or question you'd like to add. Conversation is always appreciated.