Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Vampires of Consciousness

We  tend not to make full use of our so-called “free will.”   Too often we allow ourselves to be molded by other people and by circumstances.  Our will is not actually used and the freedom we possess in principle lies fallow.  Most of the time life lives us; we do not live our lives. We cease to be causes and become casualties.  


Unfortunately, we’re slipping into a way of life that constricts the scope of our freedom. Digital technology, which is weaning us from our immediate sensory life, is a kind of intermediate space between our current human form and our becoming robots. Digital technology, unlike old-fashioned weapons that rip or blast you to pieces, turns you into an information-object, to be absorbed into and manipulated by the digital warlords and empire-builders.  Clearly, bit by bit, something is eating away the entrails of our humanity.


Let me point to a handful of symptoms of this psychic maceration taking place. As far as the geometry of the digital space we inhabit, the distance between the services we obtain and the corporate source is more and more remote.   To promptly connect with another human being that speaks your language in corporate space happens so rarely that it feels like the good Lord Himself intervened to make it possible—in short, a miracle. 


Not long ago, after an interminable wait (the bill my Internet provider sent me was totally wrong), I had the near miraculous experience of hearing a woman’s voice say, “How can I help you?”  It didn’t take to see I was conversing with a robot.  My task was to explain to the robot that my latest bill of a $143 was wrong because I paid it weeks ago, and that the ten dollar late fee was unfair.  I explained I had the check in hand to prove I paid the bill.  Well, I might have been trying to explain the Big Bang to the robot, which tormented me for at least forty minutes with all sorts of questions about my identity, asking for all sorts of passwords, while also recommending that I go to the Century Link website, which would enlighten me.  It did not.


I was unable to get any satisfaction from the robot, so instead of exploding into homicidal rage, I hung up and paid the bill again. My sanity, I decided, was worth more than $143.  It was a choice I had to make.  As I half-expected, my next bill was zero. Some humans must have figured out I had made the payment.


If you use Gmail, you may notice when you receive mail, your computer tries to help you reply, and might suggest three or four possible ways you can phrase your response.  The digital guardian angel doesn’t want you to work too hard, struggling to  form sentences. So, not only are we being surveilled in multiple ways, an infinity of data about us being collected, stored, sold, etc., but the digital demon wants to assist us in making our mental choices. This is a kind of creeping possession.  Are we, in fact, gradually being mentally possessed by technology?


Some folks are so pessimistic about bungling humanity that they look forward to transmuting themselves into robots, in other words, a digital master race.  Are we seeing pointers to the extinction of biological humans?  I can understand how attractive this fantasy might be.  After all, the human species has literally wreaked havoc on the whole of planetary life. So why not root for the rise of a new race of clean-cut, well-organized robots to take over the planet?


The problem with robots is that they are soulless.  A soulless robot could not even help me pay my bill.  Are we supposed to imagine that machines will create paradise on Earth?  Or is it more accurate to think of machines as vampires that lust after something more precious than blood—our consciousness, our attention, our soul.


Here’s an example of the digital Vampire in action.  My phone service is AT&T and I have autopay.  Autopay implies that each month AT&T automatically extracts what I owe them from my bank.  I ought not to have to think about AT&T, unless they fail in the transaction with my bank or are changing the cost of my service. 


But that’s not how it works.  AT&T wants me to think of them as much as possible; the Vampire is a soul-sucker and wants to devour as much of my attention as possible. For example: I’m texted and told that in several days I will be paying my monthly fee. The signal interrupts me and I have to reply lest the red dot lingers to remind of AT&T’s existence.  I hit ‘Okay’ and try to send, and I’m given an option of ways to respond, “gentle,” “loud,” “slam,” “invisible,” etc., an unnecessary distraction, but I have to make a decision—and more attention is sucked up. 


A few days later I get another text, telling me that the grand transaction is about to transpire, but if I have enough $ in my account to pay my bill, I’m told I might even save money.  This is a meaningless statement.  It’s just an excuse for the Vampire to slurp up a bit more of my attention.  Then, a few days later I get a notice—totally unnecessary (it’s Auto Pay, remember)—“congratulating” me that my payment was a “success!” The effort with these last two overblown words in quotes is to create in me the illusion of pleasure, as if there were something special about the fact that I paid my bill, as if it were some noble achievement on my part, the high point of the month.


I’ve tried to communicate with AT&T and explain politely the meaning of “autopay,” but the robots don’t reply or seem to understand the nature of my grievance.  









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