douglas_rushkoff's picture
Media Analyst; Documentary Writer; Author, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus
America's Descent Into Computer-Aided Unconsciousness And Consumer Fascism

We have taught our machines to conduct propaganda. Web sites and other media are designed to be "sticky," using any means necessary to maintain our attention. Computers are programmed to stimulate Pavlovian responses from human beings, using techniques like one-to-one marketing, collaborative filtering, and hypnotic information architecture.

Computers then record our responses in order to refine these techniques, automatically and without the need for human intervention. The only metrics used to measure the success of banner ads and web sites is the amount of economic activity - consumption and production - they are able to stimulate in their human user/subjects. As a result, the future content and structure of media will be designed by machines with no priority other than to induce spending.

It amounts to a closed feedback loop between us and our computers, where - after their initial programming - the machines take the active role and human beings behave automatically. Programs adjust themselves in real time, based on their moment to moment success in generating the proper, mindless responses from us. In fact, computers and software are already charged with the design of their own successors. They are encouraged to evolve, while we are encouraged to devolve into impulsive, thoughtless passivity.

Those who stand a chance of resisting - people who actually think - are rewarded handsomely for their compliance, and awarded favorable media representations such as "geek chic." These monikers are reserved for intelligent people who surrender their neural power to the enhancement of the machine, by becoming vested web programmers, for example. Those who refuse to suspend active thought are labeled communist, liberal, or simply "unfashionably pessimistic." Worse, they are unfaithful enemies of NASDAQ, and the divinely ordained expansion of the US economy.

Ultimately, if such a story were actually reported, it would have to dress itself in irony, or appear as the result of an abstract intellectual exercise, so as not to alert too much attention.