Opinion: Companies abuse technology to control us

Many kids are being brought up with technology at their finger tips (Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons)

Maybe our technologically-impaired relatives were right: Technology is scary. Or at least, the companies that create our technology and the services we use are scary. Under their influence, we are quickly headed towards a breakdown of our culture and traditional lifestyles, and I fear that this transition is full of danger and abuse.

Everyone likes to laugh about how old people are bad with technology. While they struggle to understand email or smartphones or whatever, younger people claim to be much more comfortable with these advancements. It’s because we were raised around this technology; most college students can’t remember a time without the internet, so of course they’re going to be familiar with it. Every kid nowadays is raised with a tablet or phone—they are the new pacifiers for the young.

However, this understanding of technology goes only skin-deep. While we can claim to understand the “how” of the electronics we use, very few understand the deeper “why” of our relationship with technology. To us, they are just services we use without questioning the algorithms or motives at play. Today, I will be discussing a few ways that private interests use this ignorance to control us.

So many people have cried out against social media that to even mention it strikes dangerously close to clichéd. It is clear that this also happens more mundanely, with astroturfed or botted content on the rise in advertising. Services like Instagram and YouTube have even recently had controversies borne out of users not disclosing when they are paid to show off a product. In fact, the whole concept of an “influencer” as a profession is just another symptom of the same illness that brought about the ongoing problems with Russian-backed groups gaming social media to manipulate the 2016 and 2018 elections in the United States.

However, even at the basic level, the complacency with social media platforms and their way of doing business is alarming. Think about it: We are okay with various websites tracking our actions and data, selling that information to advertisers and then sharing it to figure out how best to keep us on their website. With no human interaction, these companies are psychologically analyzing us to distract us from our lives as much as they can. The internet is often lauded as being a space of open discussion and information. However, in the current setting, it is just a means to an end, a way to push our eyes towards products. These tech companies choose what we see and when we see it. The communal angle of the internet is dead, as none of it is truly authentic.

And so we come to the new digital age, where marketers fully understand the media landscape and use it to their advantage. It’s to the point where brands have even started to take advantage of the more authentic subcultures with “Brand Twitter.” For those unaware, brand Twitter is where product social media pages act as if they are regular people, making memes and suicidal jokes. The favorite in this is often the Wendy’s twitter page, but every brand from Sonic the Hedgehog to Sunny D is trying for their own slice of the pie.

So, this is where we are at: companies taking advantage of our monkey brains to advertise to us and brands co-opting our condition in order to get us to think about their junk food more. We are being taken advantage of constantly. It’s truly a sad place that technology has brought us, even worse when we realize that it is mostly young, impressionable eyes that these schemes are aimed at. What is the solution? Obviously, every system will be abused as possible, but there needs to be some more oversight and consumer protections. Government is slow, but it has to keep up with the pace of technology before these massive companies run us over and wear us down. For now, though, it is just important to be aware and consider the content we consume. Realize that these spaces that are marketed as being purely for socialization are anything but honest. After all, when we create a system where people are encouraged to only care about money, can we really be surprised when those around us try to put profits over people?


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.