Fine Tuning Our Dynamic Democracy
As individuals who are part of families, and in a larger sense, the local and national community, we are taught the value of bettering ourselves, learning from our mistakes, making amends, and improving ourselves. Ideally, we grow wiser, gain greater understanding and insight becoming better individuals over time…ideally at least.
Our interactions with our family, friends, colleagues and the greater community can and do (if we listen intently), give us constructive feedback which can serve to help us fine tune ourselves and our relationships. This process requires executive function machination, and active internal focus on our internal growth and development. Again, ideally, we learn and improve.
That which is of most value to us can easily be ‘perceptually downgraded’ for that which is enticing, ‘new,’ and quickly gratifying. This happens an untold number of times a day through the presence of the technology and the industry that banks on it. Our executive function wherewithal plummets in such a system of function, and our decision-making process becomes permeated and rigged according to the business-strategies of much of the technology that we interact with.
I recently read Tristan Harris’s essay, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind- from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist.” He is a well-known speaker and writer whom looking to help the average reader deconstruct the narrative of how social media is crafted to give you the idea of choice, when in fact, it is controlling the choices, or menu, for you. Not only that, social media platforms negatively disrupt our attention spans and wield great influence on how we navigate online, where we navigate to, for how long, and to what purpose.
This creates a tremendous challenge to individual critical thinking development, and a formidable obstacle to the growth and maintenance of a true democracy. A short-fusing of our thinking patterns has been built, making it difficult to detach from such a system of thinking not in service to our own self and values, but in service to the business protocols of the social media business industry. Such a system creates ‘friction’ for itself to be improved upon as it focuses on the short-term generation of increasing time spent by each user on its interface social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). The most disadvantaged segments of the population will be those people who are not aware of how social media is scaffolded to increase its influence in our life. Teaching critical thinking skills in grade school through the practice of writing, speaking, and discussion on a wide range of topics fine-tunes the mind of youth and adults to realize that there are systems of social operation that are selfishly focused on their business growth, their political ideologies, and their choices of what is important in life.
For example, on the Twitter platform, who picks what is trending on the “Trend page’? Political conservative individuals and organizations, as well as congressional leaders in Washington D.C., have pointed out that the news trend topics are heavily slanted to favor a leftist, social-progressive ideology. The same has been alleged of Facebook, whose CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently had to answer questions on his social media companies attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. Google has become powerful as the number one search engine, and it is increasingly being called into question as to how its algorithmic functions control the website ranking of sites based on the companies political and social ideology. This is social engineering on the surface, and these are easily spotted attempts to control how we think, and how we make choices.
Critical Thinking Matters
It is next to miraculous that I found out about Frederick Douglas’s contribution to democracy, given the above-mentioned system of negative attentional disruption, and the 24 hour news cycle. Valuing the time invested in writing essays on his defense of true Christian values and individual freedom and liberty was possible due to my recognition to value disconnecting from the social media narratives that seem to drive mental response. Douglass, an African-American and former slave, born in about 1818, established that a true Christian would not be racially prejudice against a person based on the color of their skin or the conditions in which they were born, but would be actively seeking the freedom, liberty and restoration of a quality life for a disadvantaged brother or sister-in-Christ. He realized that he had to write and speak, even purchase a form of informational production, a printing press, to change and influence public opinion.
How can we grow internally, become critical thinkers, and gain greater understanding of what truly matters if we are raised in a culture that allows for the manipulation of our thoughts and attention, even our emotional state of being? How are mighty men and women going to rise on a grander scale, if our public educational system does not directly address the onslaught to the minds and hearts of each new generation? Our phones, our car radios, the social media apps, our televisions, the entertainment industry, the news industry- all these seek our attention, and all these influence according to the time we spend on them. There is even a high level of political collusion amongst these, with the prevailing norm being that social-progressive ideals be championed, and conservative voices be dulled, even silenced in the echo chamber of media.
There Is No Silence In The Quiet Moments
A mind becomes neurologically wired to such an external system, and pivots on its manufactured rise and fall. This directly limits, an individual’s liberty to leave, or temporarily detach from such a system, even when the person is not using a device. In such a state of mental functioning, a society is quickly steered consciously or unconsciously into serving not the greater values of a person, a family, or a community, but subservient to the business strategy of social media and technology at large.
It would be a great way to control a large population, limit the rise of scaled masses of outspoken critical thinkers, and curate a faux-democracy wherein an elite of individuals manage the masses. In this kind of framework, democracy becomes a house of cards, easily swept by the whim and desires of a few. Can a soldier in the armed forces of a nation defend against such a challenge to democracy? They valiantly serve, even place their life on the line, but this kind of work to defend individual freedom and liberty takes place in another battlefield that you cannot see as much as read. It is not a battle of ideas, but a deconstruction of narratives which prop up ideas, which in turn are fanned out through a social media distribution network that operates overtly and covertly. It is both in your face, and sublime. Conscious and unconscious influence for your heart and mind. This is how mountains are moved.
Positive Disruption and Social Responsibility
Reform educational curricula to value the development of critical thinking as it pertains to the defense of freedom and liberty, alongside science, technology, engineering, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Build not professionals only, but professionals who are entrepreneurial-minded and outspoken critical thinkers who participate in the process of democracy. We need not just empower an economic labor force to be great engineers, but engineers who write and speak out on those values that strengthen community and dispel the narratives of social systems that degrade our society.