The Current

Turn away from social media and join 'Team Human,' urges author

In his new book Team Human, author and digital theorist Douglas Rushkoff says that people thrive by making meaningful connections with one another, but technology like social media networks are actively working towards weakening those connections for their own purposes.

Douglas Rushkoff calls on people to connect with one another and resist the allure and isolation of tech

Author Douglas Rushkoff is calling for humankind to reclaim our human connections with one another. (Rebecca Ashley)

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Social media networks that were initially marketed as tools for connection have proven to accomplish the opposite, says Douglas Rushkoff.

The digital theorist argues that sites like Facebook and Twitter made crucial pivots from "enhancing humanity to enhancing the value of their stock," which in turn fostered feelings of alienation in their users.

To correct this "wrong direction" for society, he urges people to regain their own autonomy by joining what he calls "Team Human."

"We are a collective. We are a social collaborative being. Evolution is a team sport," he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

He advocates for people to work towards forging deeper human connections outside of technology in his new book Team Human. Here is part of his conversation with Tremonti.

Team Human argues that society is made up of social creatures — but technology is working to drive us apart and isolate us, which we need to actively resist. (Penguin Random House Canada)

What are some of the worst examples for how technology which might have been a force for human connection has actually ended up repressing us?

Gosh, I mean, there's so many. It's really hard to pick.

The worst of the worst, I would say, is the more subtle effects of all of this surveillance and data-tracking and consumer profiling.

Facebook is there to monetize the data we leave behind. But the way they do it is really pernicious. … They take information from our past and use it to put us in a statistical bucket.

So they might know with, say, 80-per-cent accuracy, that I'm going to go on a diet in the next month. And what will they do then? Well then my news feed will start to fill up with ads about dieting, or ads about my health, or news stories about what happens if you eat too much fat or too much starch.

And what they're doing is not trying to sell me a particular group of products. What they're trying to do is to take the 20 per cent of people who were going to exercise some true human autonomy and engage in an anomalous new behaviour … to quite literally attempt to autotune human behaviour to get us to behave more consistently with those profiles in order to make us more machine-like. And that's really why I call these networks anti-human.

How concerned are you about how technology and social media affect us not only as consumers but as citizens of democracies?

The way technologies can most easily influence human behaviour is by reducing us to a fight-or-flight primal reptilian state.

The higher faculties, our rationality and even our empathy and compassion — those are much harder to manipulate. So what behavioural designers do is they try to circumvent the front brain and reach right into the brain stem where that scared little reptile is just thinking, you know, "fight or flight, pray or eat or be eaten."

That's not going to engender the kind of body politic that can make intelligent, informed decisions.

Democracy really is incompatible with a nation of people who are living in a reptilian brain mode.- Douglas Rushkoff

You have made the point that the very people who create these things are the ones who are paranoid — they're the ones who want to know where they should put their bunkers.

It is funny. I did this talk, or what I thought was going to be a talk, to some hedge fund-type people, and it turned out it was just five billionaires who were peppering me with questions about where to put their bunkers and how to maintain control of their security force after the apocalypse. And I'm thinking, "My God, if these are the wealthiest people on the planet and they're just looking for an escape route — I mean, well, what about the rest of us?

These guys are just trying to figure out, "How can I earn enough money to insulate myself from the reality I'm creating by earning my money in this way?"

These are people that ... don't let their kids use computers … and live out in the organic, WiFi-free zones of California while they make the devices and pollution and mind-control apparatus for the rest of us.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018. (Getty Images/Josh Edelson)

That should make us pause.

You would think. It certainly made me pause. And that's why I'm making this call to remember that you're on Team Human!

Evolution is a team sport. It's not a survival of the fittest individual.

So what are some key actions, the things people can do, to join Team Human, as you call it, and start changing things?

Economically we can move towards more worker-owned businesses, what we call platform cooperatives.

Most simply it's a matter of people re-establishing basic social bonds with one another. You know, recognizing their local reality.

Learn how to make eye contact. Look into other people's eyes. The most important thing we need to do, really, on an individual level, is recalibrate our systems towards bonding with other human beings. I feel that establishing basic rapport with other people is really a prerequisite to solidarity. It's a prerequisite to reclaiming our power.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Émilie Quesnel. Produced by Alison Masemann. Q&A edited for length and clarity.


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