Douglas Rushkoff has been observing and reporting on the digital universe for decades. He is not a cheerleader for the tech revolution — quite the opposite. And yet he is constantly sought out by those at the forefront of the digital revolution and he says they mostly have one thing in common — they want him to tell them how to survive the catastrophic climate cataclysm they see coming as the technology they created comes to fruition.
Rushkoff calls it “The Event,” the point in time when total climate collapse occurs. “They’re torturing themselves now, which is kind of fun to see. They’re afraid that their little AIs are going to come for them. They’re apocalyptic, and so existential, because they have no connection to real life and how things work. They’re afraid the AIs (they created) are going to be as mean to them as they’ve been to us,” Rushkoff told The Guardian recently.
In Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, published last year, Rushkoff recounts his conversations with five of the wealthiest tech billionaires on Earth who summoned him to a private island in the pacific to hear his advice on how they can survive after we paeans get roasted alive by a warming planet.
He tells The Guardian the tech billionaires (all males, so far as we can tell) are in escape mode. They are planning missions to Mars, creating island bunkers. or moving to higher ground to prepare for The Event. They are obsessed with creating a virtual “metaverse,” which will fulfill the prophecy that the tech revolution was always about preparing us for a world in which it was no longer possible to go outside.
For this group, the future of technology is about only one thing — escaping from the rest of us. Rushkoff calls this “The Mindset” — a form of groupthink that is a characteristic of Silicon Valley technocrats. “They have reduced technological progress to a video game that one of them wins by finding an escape hatch.”
He cites a grim list of examples — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos pursuing space migration fantasies; Peter Thiel’s $30 million underground New Zealand compound; Mark Zuckerberg’s digital universe — fittingly called “Meta” — and others pursuing technologies toward longevity, cloning, and creating large, multiple partner families. “For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves ,” Rushkoff has said.
Technology & The Teen Mind
The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, this week warned that the effects of social media on adolescent mental health were not fully understood. While it can be beneficial to some users, “There are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
According to the New York Times, the report recommends that families keep mealtimes and in-person gatherings free of devices to help build social bonds and promote conversation. It suggested creating a “family media plan” to set expectations for social media use, including boundaries around content and keeping personal information private.
Dr. Murthy also called on tech companies to enforce minimum age limits and to create default settings for children with high safety and privacy standards. And he urged the government to create age-appropriate health and safety standards for technology platforms. Adolescents “are not just smaller adults,” Dr. Murthy said in an interview after the report came out. “They’re in a different phase of development, and they’re in a critical phase of brain development.”
Survey results from Pew Research have found that up to 95% of teens reported using at least one social media platform, while more than one-third said they used social media “almost constantly.” As social media use has risen, so have self-reports and clinical diagnoses among adolescents of anxiety and depression, along with emergency room visits for self-harm and suicidal ideation.
The advisory noted that technology companies have a vested interest in keeping users online, and that they use tactics that entice people to engage in addictive-like behaviors. “Our children have become unknowing participants in a decades-long experiment,” the advisory states.
What Did Tech Companies Know, & When Did They Know It?
That last paragraph takes us back to Douglas Rushkoff, who said that warnings like the one from the Surgeon General are belated. “What happened to the cigarette companies will eventually happen to the social media companies,” he predicted. “They’ve had all the research for 20 years, and they’ve been knowingly saying this stuff is not harmful when they know it to be harmful.”
He says the self-anointed gods of the tech world are “not getting off the planet, they’re not going to live forever. They’re just living out their fantasies. They are eugenicists. There’s a reason why they got along with Jeffrey Epstein and Richard Dawkins — people who say genes are the only things that matter. We live in an entirely material universe. There is no soul. Humans can be auto-tuned and anything between the ones and zeros is just noise.
“It’s a pure form of the same sort of sociopathic capitalism that we saw from the British East India Company or Hobbs talking about Native Americans. But now they have a technology that amplifies sociopathic tendencies.”
The Democratization Of Information
The tech revolution began with Johannes Gutenberg, whose printing press made the Bible accessible to ordinary people — at least those who could read. For the first time, people could read the holy book for themselves instead of relying on priests to tell them what it meant. Nevertheless, monarchs had the text modified to support their political agendas in order to solidify their power. More people have died in religious wars than from atomic weapons.
Next, radio promised to keep us all informed, and then television offered the same golden promise. It brought us TV dinners and tray tables that obliterated the dinner table conversations that had become so essential to transmitting human culture to impressionable young minds. Now siblings sit in the back seat of the family car and text each other while the scenery whizzes by outside.
Though all of this information revolutions, entrepreneurs like William Randolph Hearst, Henry Luce, Willam Paley, and Rupert Murdoch figured out how to monetize the distribution of information in order to make themselves incredibly wealthy while keeping their audiences amused and generally ill informed.
The tech billionaires today are focused on one thing and one thing only — increasing their wealth by controlling the flow of information to the masses. Elon Musk now wants to create a “neural lace” that sits over the top of the cortex inside our heads. For some, it may be able to help the blind see and the lame to walk again. But it will also vastly increase Musk’s ability to control what we know and what we believe. Is there money to be made from doing that? Oh, you betcha.
He is so giddy about its possibilities, he has offered to let his children test it out — although he pointedly did not suggest they would have any say in the matter.
Douglas Rushkoff Says There May Be Good News
The solution to the modern world’s explosion of tech challenges, Rushkoff told The Guardian, is not government, but in making personal choices and accepting responsibility. The only way to rebel is to be human and aware, Rushkoff said.
“Be social, get your feet on the ground, make eye contact, have sex, meet people, breathe the air. The more real-life ballast you have, the less this brittle, ideological, abstracted, social media-mediated universe bears upon your daily existence.”
I came across a bumper sticker years ago that distilled Rushkoff’s advice down to its essence. It said “Turn It Off. Go Outside.” Wise words.
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