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Kid #2

Monopoly of the Minds

by | Feb 4, 2021

One of the kids I used to watch — she’s eight, I think, and reminds me a little of little me, lord help her — she put something in my head. She was slouching, nibbling on her sandwich or whatever, doing her own thang, and she turns to me and says, “Isn’t it funny that when we’re listening to people we’re just saying the words they said in our head? That even when we’re listening to music, we’re just repeating it in our head?” She’s a smart cookie.

My roommate took a class last year in which they read Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense. Philosophy can be quite interesting, but the problem with it is, most of it’s old as dirt, and therefore quite difficult to pick through. (That’s my gripe with modern academic writing, as well: it’s just intentionally dense. Fucking gatekeeping.) She was picking through the book in our little writer’s attic of a room one night. We had similar study habits, which is to say, the fact we were both up, with barely started work, at 1 a.m. was not unusual, nor was her interrupting me with something interesting she’d just read, as we were always super happy for any excuse not to do our work.

She’s much smarter than me , so although I’ve since skimmed it, her summary of the book still sticks: words are inherently lies. They are a vast oversimplification of our thoughts. Part of the reason there is so much discord in our lives is because we will never be able to fully express the things in our head. (I think then you can also argue, Does what’s in our head even matter? We all think what we think and see what we see, have differences in perception and brain chemistry, so even if I could perfectly read someone’s thoughts, I wouldn’t understand them. And anyways, it is very hard, almost impossible, to change people’s thoughts.) I think Nietzsche also goes into how easily you can manipulate reality with words. I’m not sure, I only skimmed.

Have you seen The Social Dilemma? It’s part documentary, part drama, the drama part graced by the girl who was in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and has somehow become worse at acting in the last eight years. The drama part is whatever — a little tacky and, well, over-dramatic for my taste. It reads like one of those terrible movies they make you watch in driver’s ed. to scare you off texting and driving.

The documentary part is good, though. It’s all about manipulation: mass manipulation, unfettered manipulation, unintentional manipulation, algorithmic manipulation. In short, the film proposes that a huge part of the divide in our nation is due to the algorithm; that it does not value truth, only clicks, so it draws people down deeper and deeper into rabbit holes. This is what gave momentum to QAnon and other widespread conspiracies. Not only is this tech addicting (usually intentionally so), it’s also, in a lot of ways, uncontrollable. It’s this era’s Frankenstein’s monster, an ill-devised scheme going feral and biting humanity in the butt.

I was texting a girl  I went to high school with the other day. She had tweeted about the term neoliberal being over/misused. I don’t know, she’s probably right. She’s also smarter than me, or at the very least, more well-read. I think her main thing was that she believes neoliberals are politically conservative, but people online often use the term to refer to people who merely aren’t socialists. So yes, really she’s right.

But I would also make the argument that a lot of American politicians today are neoliberals, if only because they value production and profit over community wellbeing. In Social Studies, in the 11th grade, before the renovations at our high school, when we were still in the classroom with the big windows and huge desks, we learned about the Progressive Era. That was one of the few times I felt proud of our nation’s history. Unions were formed, news reporting was valued and substantial, and most importantly, worker protections became law, as did the Sherman Antitrust Act.

I love Google. I love how convenient it makes things, how seamlessly its tech transfers from one platform to another. I love that I can get texts from my iPhone on my MacBook, that I can pause music playing on my phone from my watch. I love TikTok because it shows me exactly what I want to see.

But Big Tech cannot continue without government oversight. It is undeniable that these companies hold monopolies, and undeniable that there is little government oversight of these companies. The deep rift in our nation — not to mention the generational tech rift and its addictive, antisocial, unhealthy properties — is due in large part to the lack of regulation to protect consumers of Big Tech, regulation that’s been commonplace in all other markets in the United States for more than a century.

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