Alex Tighe reviews 'Net Loss: The inner life in the digital age (Quarterly Essay 72)' by Sebastian Smee

Monday, 10 December 2018 10:41 Alex Tighe
Alex Tighe reviews 'Net Loss: The inner life in the digital age (Quarterly Essay 72)' by Sebastian Smee

Net Loss: The inner life in the digital age (Quarterly Essay 72)

by Sebastian Smee

Black Inc., $22.99 pb, 112 pp, 9781760640712

You probably own a smartphone. Chances are it’s in your pocket right now, or at least within arm’s reach – don’t pick it up. Fight the habit. Besides, you’ve probably checked it in the last fifteen minutes. If you are an average user, intentionally or not, you will spend three to four hours looking at its screen today. If you did check your phone after the second sentence, then well done for making it back to this piece, although (according to some research) it probably took you about twenty-five minutes to refocus.

Acknowledgment is the first step to recovery: we are not in control of how we use our phones. It’s not a case of no longer being in control – we never were. Buried among all the other revelations about the dark sides of technology has been a growing awareness that software is designed to be addictive. ‘Persuasive technology’ is the sanitised name Silicon Valley gives to technology that acts to change the behaviour of the user. Think of brightly coloured app icons that lure unthinking taps, or notifications delivered at random time intervals to reinforce the habit of checking your phone or social media. They are the same kind of psychological hacking techniques used by the makers of the pokies. Like corporate Dr Frankensteins, the tech giants are in the business of collecting eyeballs – and screw the ethics.

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Alex Tighe

Alex Tighe

Alex Tighe is a writer and editor, and the winner of the University of Sydney’s 2018 Wentworth Medal essay prize. In 2019 he will be the ABC / Kidney Health Australia’s inaugural Mark Colvin Scholar.

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