How Can We Be More Present?

My favourite month of the year is here, which is probably why I’m starting to write less as well. If it isn’t cyclical enough, I tend to lean to a recluse when it is nearing the end of the year. I don’t know why, it simply feels natural to me. Perhaps, it is my mind and body telling me to recharge.

From what? I wonder.

One thing is for sure though, we all need to make a conscious effort to understand what the Internet can do for us and to us. For starters, I highly recommend everyone to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. There are tons of takeaway from the documentary ranging from surveillance capitalism, deliberate addictive design of social and search platform along with what or who is the product being sold. What makes the documentary even more compelling is that it is a group of insiders who speak out against tools they themselves created. Experts include Justin Rosenstein (creator of Facebook’s ‘like’ button), Sandy Parakilas (former Operations Manager for Facebook), Bailey Richardson (one of Instagram’s first employees), legendary tech innovator and computer scientist Jaron Lanier, and Tristan Harris, a former designer ethicist at Google who has argued at length that online platforms exploit psychological vulnerabilities and downgrade human potential. Without a shadow of doubt, I believe we all still recognise the Internet for what it is — a luxury. It is so much more convenient with it than without it.

However, like any addictive substance, it has made itself a toxic necessity.

The Internet, specifically social and search platforms, represents a revolution in human consciousness. It is akin to a great democratizer which connects everyone. The cool thing is all of us are able to access the same sort of data worldwide. The ugly side is that we are seeing the same things being portrayed differently as these social and search algorithms cater to our biases and preconceptions. What makes the Internet so dangerous is that our viewpoint of reality is constantly shifting and morphing. The Internet is gradually customized to accommodate our worldview, as our attention becomes the pinnacle of the profit business model. By now we’re all familiar of how the Internet affects the same parts of the brain as alcoholism or gambling. It offers the promise of limitless choice and infinite agency to the point that we are often lost in daze refreshing our feeds over and over again. We’re like a captive animal retracing the same neurotic path in its cage.

We’re like lab rats constantly tapping for food pellets.

It is scary, or at least to me, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. We all know it involves some sort of scientific measure or simply the skills of a smooth sleight of hands. However, magic IS magic because we allowed ourselves in the belief of the disbelief. The impossible has happened, which is why we’re constantly bewildered. In the same way, we’re waiting for the next big thing to unfold itselves and our patience is wearing thin. Our phones have become digital pacifiers ready to rocket launch a constant stream of dopamine hit whenever we start scrolling. Wherever there is an instant access to gratification, there is our attention being the product that is sold to advertisers. It is very similar to being a claw machine owner. Loosely speaking, we try to come up with fun setups. But when we get to the core of things, we are simply creating the feeling of an almost-win, much like a rush from the latest comments on Facebook or a ping on Whatsapp. Being the owners, we want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate in the most natural way possible.

We don’t want you to be left bored.

I’ve written about this at length with articles such as “How Can We Idle Productively?” and “How Can We Worry Better?”, there is nothing wrong with being bored. The usage of the Internet is shaped in a way that we’ve been made to think boredom is bad. It isn’t. Boredom is a good thing. It is during the tiny bored timeframe that you get to truly process what you’re thinking and chances are, it is too late to realise you’ve been immersing your head in the ceaseless shitstream that is constantly fighting for your attention. I dare say most time on the Internet is irretrievably squandered. One minute it is not even 10pm, and the next thing you know, you’re left with 3 hours of sleep. Everyone knows that the odds are against you when you’re playing the claw machine, yet we still insert our very first token in till the point where the loss of tangible money exceeds promised happiness. Yes, you will win from time to time, but the immediate pain sets in when you see your wallet getting thinner. The Internet evokes the same mannerism, just that it doesn’t drip money off you, it drips time. A minute feels insignificant. A night feels little. Slowly but surely, we get hooked. It is the same way how sugar sets in our life. It is probably not gonna go away for a looooong period of time, but we can always choose 25% sugar level over 100% in our favourite cup of bubble tea. Kindly recognise that whether it is 0% sugar level or 100% sugar level, you’re still in the system, you’re still equally hooked.

There is a fine line between fishing and doing nothing. We would like to think that we’re fishing, but the truth is we don’t have the line.