In 1970, Marshall McLuhan wrote:
When you live in an information age, culture becomes big business, education becomes big business, and the exploration of culture through the information explosion becomes itself culture. It knocks down all the walls between culture and business.
In the last 50 years since McLuhan’s statement, we have witnessed the creation and development of online platforms that have come to integrate our daily lives via computers, smartphones, and other devices. This means a true revolution in communication and information dissemination, which, by filling more and more hours of our days, are perceived as positive and essential. All generations are plugged in and connected, regardless of age.
However, after the first years of this revolution and once established the tentacles of digital media, pioneer builders of social networks such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are already positioning themselves denouncing and criticizing the overwhelming advance of the networks they helped to create. In their criticisms, they claim that on social networks, the man became a product that is sold and bought. In addition to interviews and lectures on the matter, this debate resurfaced strongly with the release of the documentary The Social Dilemma. In this documentary, Tristan Harris - former Google design ethics expert - says:
Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people.
These considerations lead us to think that the great issue of the 21st century is the expansion of markets so that everything can be sold and bought. The Market imposition, its dynamics, activities, ideas, and products reify man. The effect is equivalent to the destructive and alienating effect on societies and cultures invaded by colonizers in the 18st and 19st centuries, when languages, desires, habits, clothes, foods, and ways of being and thinking were destroyed. Nowadays, social networks manipulate behaviors by matching them through clicks, i.e., likes that work as generators of what can be known, loved, and valued.
We are manipulated for the maintenance of online platforms that allow selling and advertising not only products, but also truths and lies. Everything is equal. A citizen of Myanmar, another of Botswana, another of New York is equal in their desires and appreciations through their likes. Likewise, their emotions, their desires for approval, exist in terms of what is programmed. Network engineers are also the builders and breakers of social systems, democracy itself is threatened. Polarizations – left vs. right, science vs. obscurantism – infiltrate everyday life.
Knowledge is no longer encyclopedic and enlightened. Now everything is fragmented and sectored. These environments include discussions on vaccines, positionings against the advance of democratic decisions, and destruction of minorities that do not buy, that are not connected to the networks. To live is to click; in this sense, the series of likes or dislikes establish what is experienced as choice, decision, democracy, but which, in fact, do not result from autonomous, thought-out, or free action. These experiences stem from the meticulous, precise, and planned manipulation of human emotions. Scientific knowledge and its evidence-based truths are replaced by fake news, by “we think so”.
Another point to consider in this obscure universe is that the light from social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) reaches people as any light would (spark, sconce, lamp, headlamp), only brightening surfaces; notwithstanding, opacity predominates. This indistinct polarization increases the flow of individuals who do not discriminate, who do not know, who ignore what is discussed and the context in which discussions are developed. In short, people for whom the crudeness presented explains everything, while the subtleties, pale in appearance, do not attract.
The reign of explicitness thus sets in, life loses nuance, monochrome dominates: it is either black or white. There is no halftone, the most one can do is imagine spectra responsible for generic explanations. It is the culture of the emphatic, of the residue, of what is shown for disposal or apprehension.
It is important to remember that social networks are inserted in economic contexts in which the search for profit and excessive gains predominates and that the level of manipulation via addictive devices is worrying. The assertion of its founders when warning of the human commodification is not exaggerated. Transformed into a product, the human being is cannibalized, and what is worse, without pain or blood since everything has already been drained and industrialized.