The 21st Century Addictions

In any negotiation, the one with power is the one who can walk away. If you can’t walk, you have no power and you won’t get what you want.

I bring this up because a couple of billion people have entered relationships in which they have no power at all, and who are being intentionally used. More than that, this relationship carries a chemical component, making it an addiction.

Any addiction has some pleasant element to it, of course: Cocaine makes you feel powerful, heroin makes your troubles go away, gambling gives you the expectation of victory. All, however, place you as the subordinate. The addiction, to use plain language, owns you. And it will degrade you over time.

This addiction lives at your expense, and until you walk away it will feed upon you: It’s a parasite and you’re its host.

I’m not saying that addictions are almighty, of course: we are humans, and we have the ability to fix such things. Nonetheless, lots of people remain in a till-death-do-us-part relationship with their abuser.

Addiction In The 21st Century

Addiction has a long history in the human race, and while I’m talking about these things very bluntly, I’m not trying to condemn. We’ve all been touched by addictions, whether in ourselves or those near to us; this is an old problem. I’m endeavoring to be honest about things, not to cast stones.

We are, after all, still dealing with the addictions of the 20th century. Smoking is fading in many places, but it became huge in the 20th century, having been turned into a symbol of liberation, among other things.

Television was also something of an addiction. Entertainment, by itself, is fine, and television needn’t be more than a medium for delivering it. But as we know, people became hooked and couldn’t let go. As a consequence, people who didn’t watch TV were seen as weird and a bit sinister.

So, before continuing: If you can’t get rid of your TV, you really should. You’re not going to die from it.

Recently, however, technological addictions have arrived. TV wasn’t intended to be an addiction, but became one. Facebook, however, was abusive from the beginning (before the thing was off the ground, Zuckerberg was calling his users “stupid f—s”), and its addictive properties have been improved ever since.

At this point, nearly everyone understands that Facebook monetizes the little hits of dopamine people get from it. They know the whole exercise is addictive, but they can’t walk away.

This applies to many other social media operations, of course. It also applies to smart phones, which became symbols of status and belonging. Pecking away at them marked you as part of something. Not every smart phone owner is addicted, but a significant number are emotionally unable to give theirs up.

These new addictions, taken together, are creating a specific set of conditions: conditions that could not exist without them. Here’s my short list:

    • They atomized people. For a while, you could see young people tapping away at their screens while sitting at a dinner table. This seems to have pulled back a bit, which is promising, but it made a perfect image for what these addictions have done to us. The neurotic suspicion spawned by 9/11 fed directly into this, as did the monetization of fear in general. People have lost the “us” of their neighborhood or town. Instead they look to “them” for safety and comfort. It’s “them,” not “us” that they turn to in distress. This is a larger issue than it may appear.
    • Mobs. In the early days of the Internet, we worried about the fact that once together in a room, the opinion of like-minded people moves invariably to the extreme. From there, of course, it’s a short step into a mob. At first we didn’t notice much of a problem, but then came Facebook, and now there are thousands of standing mobs.
    • Hate. These things were noticed and pounced upon by political types. And so the mobs, which were easily outraged, were turned into weapons and used for hateful acts like “cancelling.” And so, the stoking and reaping of outrage has become the path to power. That’s deeply dangerous.

This process has left billions of people living in clouds of dark imaginations and outrage.

I’m ignoring some nuance, but what I’m describing is not untrue. When we see people publicly wishing for the suffering and even the death of their neighbors, based upon what would previously have been personal choice, we have a problem. And that problem revolves around the novel addictions of the 21st century.

I could go on, but I won’t. My point is made and I’ll say no more except this:

If you can’t unplug and walk away, the algorithm owns you. And it will abuse you for life. 


Paul Rosenberg