One of the things that I’m fascinated by is how technology is changing the way that we think and the way that we process the circumstances of our lives. Even using a word like “process” – a term tied to computers – instead of a word like “interpret” demonstrates just how much we have come to be shaped by our technology.
I’ll give just one short, recent example of how we are being molded by our technology to think in a different way. A friend was giving a presentation today which caused her to think of a relevant book that she had read on the topic. When she got back to her office, she pulled the book off of her shelf to look through it. Shortly thereafter she received a notification on her phone asking if she was interested in purchasing an updated version of the book. This was obviously a bit disconcerting. She hadn’t even said the name of the book out loud. She had merely thought of the book. Yet somehow her phone knew that she had an interest in the book.
In the past, we would have chalked up circumstances like this to coincidence. But we no longer believe in coincidences. Instead, we assume that somehow the phones and other digital devices that have become such a part of our lives have been spying on us. In the age of Alexa, there are no coincidences, there are only algorithms. In an era when college students gladly surrender their personal information for a free cup of coffee, we’ve come to expect that there is always someone (or more likely some-thing) out there keeping tabs on us for the purpose of giving us yet another opportunity to consume a product that we didn’t know we needed. Until the algorithm told us that we needed it. And this is another aspect of having our lives governed by the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm. Isn’t it interesting that every digital “coincidence” seems to direct us towards consumption and consumerism. Devices are marketed to us for convenience. “Look at how much easier your life will be when we do all of the shopping (and thinking) for you!” But really the devices are just a way to graft us more completely into a technological cycle of consumption. There are no coincidences, only algorithms. In the same way, there are no consumers, only data. And data + algorithms = dollars.