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Thinking for ourselves—or not

Is technology turning us all into robots?

At the risk of sounding alarmist, the latest technology is attempting to control our decision-making. Check out Apple’s latest iPhone software. It offers three word choices to speed up texting. At first glance, just three words may seem limiting, but it gets better. The software is a fast learner, and quickly figures out how you think, what words you like to use and who your friends are. It’s like having an identical twin who can almost read your mind! Helpful? Or a good way to get into trouble with your spouse or boss if you’re not careful!

Although predictive typing takes getting used to, most of us quite like the convenience of not typing for ourselves. We scarcely give a thought to the fact that our devices are telling us what we’re thinking.

Whether technology has simply increased choice, or threatens to turn us all into robots, is a matter of opinion. Consider Google’s search engine. Our searches may yield a million hits on any of a billion topics in less than a second, but we rarely look beyond the offerings on the first page. Do Google’s techies writing the algorithms feeding that first page control what we think? Does it matter that Google’s primary revenue source is search engine “clicks”?

What about Facebook and its billion-plus active monthly users? Its primary source of revenue is advertising, increasingly targeted to each individual user. Does Facebook facilitate diversity or force conformity? The answer depends on who you ask.

That we prefer to follow the suggestions of others is not new. It started in the Garden of Eden when Eve swallowed the serpent’s tempting spiel and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Most people have chosen to follow the crowd ever since. The latest technology has made it a lot easier to do so.

Should followers of Christ be different? If so, why? If not, why not? To be honest, I don’t know all the answers to those questions. They are not simple black or white issues.

A book I purchased at the Toronto airport recently provides some clues. The Self Illusion examines how our brains function. The author states, “We are all too quick to notice how others can be manipulated, but we rarely appreciate how our own self is equally under the influence and control of others.”

How about conducting a little “research” as the Christmas season fast approaches? Honestly examine each of your activities in the light of God’s word. Are your actions (or inactions) motivated by “crowd think” or by genuine joy and appreciation for the season?

If you find yourself wondering why you do what you do, consider who’s in charge: you or the hype generated by media and others? If you wonder where your money or time has gone to, consider making some changes.

Thinking for yourself may take some getting used to, but it could change your life for the better.

Henry Friesen is a chartered account who is getting used to predictive typing near Winnipeg.

 

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About the author

Henry Friesen is a chartered accountant who lives in a small town near Winnipeg, Manitoba.