Stand on any street corner and watch people going about their business and you’ll see a curious sight, so many people looking down. Locked in to their personal experience with technology. There was a time when it used to frustrate and annoy me as I made my way to work; the people stopping, walking aimlessly, unaware of their surroundings.
But now, more than ever, it not only annoys, it fundamentally scares me.
Technology was supposed to be the great emancipator, the leveller, it was supposed to open the doors to new horizons and new opportunities. But the reality is not one of bright new dawns, but closing doors. We are narrowing our experiences and polarising our attitudes at a time when we need to be more thoughtful, more explorative, more inclusive than ever.
Our social networks through their definition are based on people “like us”, we share news and comment that we agree with, with people that agree with us. Anyone who wants anything to the contrary can be muted, unfollowed, exiled in from our social existence. The opinions reinforcing our views and the assurance that “we” are “right”.
We “choose” our media, the things that we watch, listen to, read from an increasingly reduced selection of “things we might like”. Losing the ability to have the serendipitous discovery, the accidental opportunity. Instead allowing algorithms to serve up our future, based on what we once consumed, reducing our experience to predictable similarity.
And we close ourselves off from the world, plugging our ears with preselected sound, looking down to view limited content, basing our existence on the screen, not the world. We eschew the chance conversation, the momentary eye contact and smile, the haphazard interaction. We close off the sounds of life, anaesthetising ourselves from reality.
In a world that feels increasingly polarised, where the signs of social isolation and abandonment are becoming central drivers of our political and economic existence. In a world where we talk about the need to be more inclusive, more open, more tolerant and understanding. We are instead shutting ourselves away in closed systems of ignorance.
It would be asking too much to change, to reverse and renew. But perhaps if we were all a little more aware of our choice to have no choice, of our willingness to give away freedom, then we could recognise the limitations of our existence and challenge ourselves to step outside more. To break out of our circles of similarity, to experience difference and to venture more in to the unknown.