Cover photo: Domiriel via Flickr (CC licence, colour-processed)

Welcome to the Digital Dystopia

An observation, a dark perspective on our addiction to technology, a warning, and most disturbingly, our way of life.

In the twenty-first century, we are technology-obsessed. We throw our money at shiny new gadgets to capture and quantify our existence. We froth at the mouth every time a new killer app solves another minor inconvenience. We sign our precious thoughts and memories over to ‘intelligent’ algorithms to be analysed, mined and exploited in new and freshly violating ways of generating profit.

These days, we rarely hesitate to embrace the latest and greatest advances in technology. And why should we? It’s all so new and exciting! It promises to bring genuine benefits to society, and make daily activities quicker, easier and more fun. But in today’s attention economy, with a plethora of media on a multitude of devices all competing for our headspace and our eyeballs, we can forget to take a step back and realise what we’ve become.

Unless we catch the latest drone massacre in the day’s news headlines, or another cyber security scandal leaks it’s way into our news feeds, we’re not overly conscious about how all this new technology could affect our lives in ways we didn’t expect or intend when we originally bought into the hype.

They say the only real drivers of technological growth are war and profit. Whether motivated by survival or greed, when it comes to progress, a kind of naïve optimism is our default setting, and it’s gotten us this far… But our collective memory is short-sighted and heavily biased.

Looking back on our past, we only congratulate ourselves on the atrocities we’ve overcome using technology. Vaccines have saved millions of lives, and the atom bomb, though devastating, ended a war which threatened to take many more lives over the long term. Conversely, we have a vested interest in projecting the most idealistic future we can imagine. The hope of bringing our dreams of a brighter world into reality is a powerful motivator thrusting us forward into a new tomorrow.

But our crystal ball is made of frosted glass and clouded by the utopian promises of science fiction. If we don’t take a moment to switch off our smartphones and reflect on who’s staring back at us in the black mirror, we’ll look up one day and find the world around us has become a Digital Dystopia.

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