After we moved to Mexico last year, it took a while to get settled. One month after our arrival here, with only a few small bags of things, we moved into a furnished house. We lived there for about 8 months. Then, we moved again, this time into an unfurnished house. We furnished it slowly and on a budget (and in Spanish) because around the same time, we bought property to renovate into two houses, one for us and one for Lydian.
We went back and forth to the United States for various reasons over the course of the year, mostly to liquidate our possessions or tie up loose ends. And each time we returned to Mexico, I had to look closely at Facebook and wonder about its value in my life. It’s one thing to move from one part of a country to another, but moving to an entirely new country has made me realize how weak most of Facebook “bonds” were. I’ve been forced over the past year to look up from my computer more than I have in years. And as I’ve been forced to do this, I’ve realized that I like the real world and that staring at a screen all day is sad unless I’m doing something creative with the computer (like writing, for example). Unfortunately, things like Facebook or even just research sucks me in at times and I get lost in this virtual space that lacks values and norms, substance and honesty. I’m inundated with information I didn’t seek out. And I wonder what it would be like to get rid of that distraction in my life.
Maybe Facebook is like an infection. Maybe if I get rid of it, my life will change in a positive way? I don’t know, but it seems like it’s time for me to try it and see.
I’m a Digital Nomad. In fact, as it turns out, John, Lydi, and I are veteran digital nomads. We’ve been traveling and working remotely since before the Internet was a Big Thing. But the Internet revolutionized our work and it made it possible for us to continue working even when we traveled abroad. Spurning the Internet seems anathema to living and supporting our digital nomad lives. But at the same time, I feel like the Internet destroys the creative process for me. And it’s getting harder and harder to find real information online. So, of what value is it really in my life?
Yes, I use email to stay in touch with people. And I hate to say it, but a lot of people talk to me through Messenger. And sometimes I have to clock in on the Internet to do writing projects for clients. But in my life and for my projects (with the exception of work for clients and direct communication with family and friends), I question the utility of the Internet in my life. The Internet, Facebook and other social media outlets make my brain release dopamine when I wander into them by accident. In the middle of a big writing project, I’ll flip over to Facebook almost unconsciously to “rest my mind”, but I wonder, is Facebook really “restful” or is it just addictive? I’m not sure if I really know what it means to “rest my mind” anymore. And at the end of the day, if I’ve spent 20 minutes or an hour on Facebook, it would be rare for me to feel like that time was well spent. Usually, when I evaluate it consciously, I feel more like, what just happened? Or what did I just spend all that time doing? Usually, time spent on Facebook = a feeling of loss and discontent.
Internet searches yield similar feelings. At the end of a day doing research for a client, I feel like the results are pretty weak even if the resources are “solid” (the stuff that comes from peer-reviewed journals, for example). Anything I find on the Internet has this malleability to it. And as the technology gets better (e.g. Quantum Computing), it’s hard to really fathom how fluid and manipulative this medium will become. John and I were talking a few nights ago about how keywords are becoming obsolete, for example and though he knows a lot more than I do about things like Big Data and Quantum Computing, I’d sensed that keywords were losing their power just from working with them in the context of writing copy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I write a lot on subjects that Google is now trying to suppress (like non-chemo cancer cures, complementary medicine, sacred indigenous medicines, or medical marijuana, for example) and using the keyword planner tool, I can’t find keywords anymore for these topics. They’re being censored. Yet, I get far more social engagement and commentary on my healthcare blog which is NOT optimized than I do on my travel blog which is.
What started the conversation between John and me about turning off the social media/Internet had to do with what I call Black Magic Marketing. Every now and then I have clients who send me spec sheets that talk about consumers like they’re mindless zombies. In the world of the Internet everything is calibrated toward “sales funnels” and consumers are aimed in this direction using subtle, but powerful linguistic tools that hijack their minds and manipulate their responses. The average person is powerless against these tactics. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of manipulation for profit is a kind of socially sanctioned type of black magic. High-level marketing theory with all its obscurities and unpredictable results reads a lot like a book on witchcraft. And like witchcraft, a person or corporation can use the powers for good or for evil.
Will Quantum Computing be used for good or for evil? And Big Data?…
That’s not to mention how our computers and our phones listen in on our private conversations and calibrate advertising to certain words and phrases that they “hear”. Since John is a programmer and he works with technology every day, he and I have done experiments with our computers and phones to see if we can figure out the algorithm. It’s not straightforward (which is what makes it so powerful and insidious), but there’s no doubt that voice recognition technology is being used to pick up on our private conversations and then calibrate an advertising feed that’s based on certain things that we talk about. If that doesn’t bother you, it should. Our family puts our tech in another room if we want to talk about certain topics these days. It’s strange and thought-provoking, Orwellian-esque thing to have to do
All of these things make me think that perhaps it’s time to step away from all the technology and really limit how I interact with it on all fronts. I’m preparing for it. Getting my personal, virtual affairs in order. As with wanting to get out of the United States to watch the political developments from the sidelines, I think it might be time to back away from tech as much as I possibly can to watch from the sidelines as well. My relationship with technology needs better, stronger boundaries.