How Evil Is Tech?

Nov 20, 2017 · 514 comments
Barry (Bethesda MD)
I don't think Apple is a monopoly in or even provides the services you site in this article. How about some fact checking rather than taking the FANG companies to task.
Daniel (New York)
I think we often struggle to come to grips with new technologies, balancing their potential with their power. Often we seem to underestimate their consequences. Perhaps we wish we could see into the future, because we sense that something is not quite right, yet yearn to make good choices now, because the future bears the fruits of those choices. We are currently 100 years removed from the First World War, the "war to end all wars." Technologies that some were eager to try out included the tank, the machine gun, the zipper, radio communication, and the vegetarian sausage! Potential versus power. This is a cycle of technology, and perhaps we are in this cycle now, via our society's digital and social media use. We invent it, we struggle to understand it and use it appropriately and wisely. We hope to make good choices with this new technology. On a history timeline, the time between the invention of the internet (1983) and Tim Bernard invention of the WWW (1990) is a blip. The time since then is 27 years, another blip, but having the dialogue and behaving rationally is what moves us forward...hopefully.
Joe (New Orleans)
I have never, and will never, own a smartphone. I encourage people to google "congo cobalt mines child slavery".
PointerToVoid (Zeros & Ones)
"Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life." Between the "It's all Trump's fault" to the reflexive defensiveness of my fellow software engineers, something critical is missing... money. Companies, large and small, exist for one reason and one reason only, to make money. IBM, Kodak (yes Virginia, Kodak was once considered a pioneer of tech), Digital, Xerox, Unisys (which still exists) and even Microsoft (in the early days) pitched themselves as doing what the quote above stated. With the exception of MSFT, none of the above made any money doing the "let us help you be more efficient so you'll have time" line. Throw in some gross mismanagement and IBM almost went belly up. Unisys is a shell of the role it used to play in tech. Digital didn't even make it to the tech bubble of the 2000's. MSFT was saved by the tech boom of the 2000's, the aforementioned IBM incompetence and some savvy moves by Gates (one savvy move being cornering the OS market). The modern tech companies know this history and have learned from it (including MSFT). They did what any successful company does: Know who the customer is and who the product is (spoiler alert social media user: you're the product). Then they follow the money. tl;dr: The current tech giants know the history of the industry. There is no money in the "save time, go outside" strategy. The money is in "constant engagement", ads and micro-transactions.
Screenwritethis (America)
If government actually had citizens best interests in mind, it would use articles like this to promote emotional/mental balance, stability, perspective among the masses. Public service campaign would broadcast this vital information. This information should be mandatory reading for all..
nicole H (california)
"The Circle." Need I say more? the movie.
Felix La Capria (Santa Cruz)
It isn't just young people who are slaves to their phones nor is the effect of isolation and unimportance attached only to its users. I am 60 years old and it is common for me to have a conversation with a peer, even a deeply personal conversation, and without warning or apology or even an "excuse me" my peer will break off interaction look at their phone, perhaps text a reply and then look back at me as if they had only scratched an itch. The message of course is that whatever I was saying has little value, certainly less than the photo of his or her daughter's breakfast that was just received. The reality is that the horse is out of the barn and it is only going to get worse. The plus side is that virtually everyone will do it so there won't be people like me who are bothered by it. But for sure meaningful connective moments between people will be fewer and we will all be diminished by it.
BA (Milwaukee)
Pretty darn evil, I'd say. A couple of days ago, i commented to my grown daughter who is the mother of two that I am glad I didnt have to face these challenges that she and her husband face in rearing their kids. The potential for good is there but it is totally outweighed by perversions inflicted by mindless capitalism which drives everthing on the Internet. Moderation is next to impossible and once you give your kids a smartphone you are pretty much powerless.
Peter Lynch (San Francisco)
Yet another experience of starting an article by Mr. Brooks with low expectations, only to find myself uplifted and educated by the end. Still, "evil" seems a little too strong here. Each of us must find our own depths, our own soul, and our own path to authentic relatedness with others. Our tech tools are fun and useful, but anyone mistaking online communication for true relationship, as Mr. Brooks points out, is missing an essential truth. But isn't it each of us, not the gadgets, that need to shift the focus?
DB (Marin)
Excellent Mr Brooks. This is truly a difficult topic for the breadth, depth, and opposing issues at play. You summarized it eloquently, at a level that I think most can agree on. Thank you.
Mike (Jersey City)
Tech is a scapegoat. Blaming Facebook for electing Trump, for example, allows us to ignore the fact that Americans elected Trump. We are finding every possible reason to avoid looking into the mirror.
Barbara (D.C.)
Tech is significantly changing our brains. Secure attachment - the single most important predictor of mental health - comes from a felt sense of others, through mirror neurons, through looking into each others' eyes. When a parent is on a phone walking their baby in a carriage, they are not there - they have literally switched into a different wavelength, and this will affect the level of secure attachment their child develops. You are no longer in a shared experience when one person is engaged with a device. Every time we abruptly turn away from someone to answer a call or text, we are breaking connection. When we have addictions that cause us to be endlessly distracted, we are affecting our level of secure attachment, and therefore our brains' physical structures. In turn, empathy atrophies. Tech addiction and climate change are the two biggest threats humanity now faces.
David Hurst (Ontario)
Swiss playwright Max Frisch wrote: "Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it."
SteveRR (CA)
The most interesting thing about tech and the app marketplace is that absolutely anyone with a bit of initiative, an internet connection and the patience to take some free online coding courses can build their own product. Of course - the downside is clear - all the whinging about how it is so male... so white... so ivy league falls by the wayside.
Jack Sonville (Florida)
Insightful column, Mr. Brooks. Whether the behavior and tactics of the tech giants are intentional or not, the effects are clearly demonstrated by research and data. So the question is, now that it is confronted with this information, whether Big Tech takes real and meaningful action. If so, they can be part of the solution. If not, they are simply another immoral, unethical mega-business that cares only about addicting their customers and extracting the maximum dollars possible from their wallets.
Cate R (Wiscosnin)
Most "social media" has a strong addictive component and users need to use caution when using. Especially the young. If you are over-using, you will need to detox. Read, walk, make something, cook something, watch the birds, listen to silence, ride a bike, wander, fish, go to a museum, read a book, look out the window, knit, play a board game, swim in a lake. Reclaim your soul and enrich yourself.
richard (pa.)
No mention here of another issue. The billions of dollars they shift to their tax free accounts overseas hurts the very customers who consume their products and enable their huge profits.
_W_ (Minneapolis, MN)
Tech (the computer industry) has always been evil. It's only a recent suggestion that's it's anything but that. A good point to remember that it's only been about 20 years since the Internet became a ubiquitous force in our society. And in the history of civilization, most of its capabilities have never been tried before. We now live in a paperless society where accountability is as durable as a screen display.
intellectual capital (la jolla)
If only we could all go back to riding horses and lighting candles, what a relaxed world this would be! How horrible it is that we can search up any fact almost instantly on the Devil's Smartphone; that scientists who don't even believe God created the world in seven days have sequenced the human genome so that babies with defects are made to live normal lives; how we can talk instantly and cheaply to people from other countries (don't let them become immigrants!) with a crazy handheld device--well, let's just let ATT&T and David Brooks end all these open-ended shenanigans and let America be run by jealous East Coast twits.
David (San Francisco)
Our entire economy is based on craving; this is especially evident in our way of celebrating Christmas. It's impossible to overstate the evil of systematically creating craving. Nobody does this like Apple.
Big Text (Dallas)
You can go as deep or as shallow as you want in the infinite sea of information that is the Internet. I learned more about the collapse of the Bronze Age reading Wikipedia for an hour or two than I ever learned in 16 years of formal school. I have listened to the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Adam Smith through Librivox and heard numerous authors discuss their books on C-Span. I know plenty of people who use the Internet in a way that enriches their personal life. Still, it's true that you can be absorbed by this system and get stuck in the shallow end. My theory is that we are a transition generation to Artificial Intelligence ala The Matrix or the movie AI. We are the end of millennia of human culture and the beginning of a new programmed species that could transcend time and space. Should that make us "happy?" How could it?
KC (California)
"Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices." That's what Silicon Valley mainly did, before its attention redirected to first the consumer and then the social. Distraction is apparently more profitable than efficiency. It's a pity Neil Postman is no longer around to observe and comment on this, for we are still "Amusing Ourselves to Death."
Diana Smith (Oregon)
Consumers can always say no to Facebook and Twitter. I am not on either of these platforms because I find them endlessly irritating and depressing, instead I call the people I care about. That contact has a lot more meaning. We as parents have control over what our children have access to. Taking the phone away from a teeanger is ok.
Rex Jackson (Sacramento)
Does heavy use of social media lead to loneliness and depression? Or do lonely and depressed young people turn more to social media? Time to read up on correlation and causation.
Chris (Monroe, NH)
Actually, there is a very good argument, complete with evidence, that the increase in anxiety (particularly social anxiety) in teens is so closely correlated with the advent of the iphone, in particular, that it is extremely tempting to tie one to the other. Anecdotally, as a therapist who works with children, teens and their families, I have seen a significant increase in anxiety symptoms across the board, but especially in teens. I practice in a rural Vermont town, and we have had three suicides in the first semester of this year already. I would suggest it's time to read up on how social media, and screens in general, impact brain development. There is plenty of evidence that there is most certainly an impact on that, and so it is not a stretch to suggest that our technology is creating anxious brains. I would suggest "The Shallows". It is a bit dated, perhaps, but I see it as the canary in the coal mine, as far as drawing attention to this issue.
Rex Jackson (Sacramento)
Thanks for your good reply to my somewhat flippant comment. I agree with you (and in part with David Brooks) that social media use is likely a contributing factor to an increase in social anxiety and other psychological ills for young people. Quite possibly the causation operates in both directions-- people feeling depressed and isolated turn more to social media, and their use of social media only exacerbates the negative feelings they are experiencing in the long run. This would be a good topic for research, I think, as it would be useful to really understand the causes of increasing depression and social anxiety among young people.
Chris (Monroe, NH)
I realized that there is also a movie called, "The Shallows". I am not referring to that, but to the book of the same name, but of a very different type of work!
steve (nyc)
"Surely the people in tech — who generally want to make the world a better place . . . " Lost me there, Brooks. The rest of the column is not terribly original, but does summarize the negative effects of digital devices. I am no Luddite, and suffer the shame of having more Apple devices than apples in my house. But I don't think any of it is making the world a better place. It's faster. It's got more stuff and more mostly useless information. But it's not better. The things that make life better are love, great music, the giggle of children, sleeping under the stars, running so hard you can hear your heartbeat, pausing long enough to be mesmerized by a blue sky thick enough to stir with a spoon. . . I'd trade a year of digital cacophony for 5 minutes of any one of those things.
ambroisine (New York)
I think it's important not to underestimate the changes brought on society, collectively and individually, by tech. And the decision of the FCC today to modulate access makes it ever more important to be attentive. Tech delivers more safe thrills than anything before. Our pleasure centers are hit with what delivers the biggest thrill, with no perceived risk to self. But the risk to self is great, because the consumers are delivering much more to AI than AI can deliver to us, because of our excellent but limited brains.
Jim Wallace (Seattle)
Brooks ignores the technology that's having a huge impact in the 21st century which is robotics. Manufacturers of automobiles and others are using a fraction of the manual labor of the past and these jobs will NOT be coming back. Trump's boast in downtrodden rust belt cities that he will bring back jobs is another cruel charlatan lie. Those voting for Trump to bring back these jobs is reminiscent of 19th century native american ghost dancers trying to bring back the buffalo -- ain't gonna happen. The answer to this is for those who benefit from the fruits of technology to share their immense wealth through higher taxes. The Luddites, after all, were not opposed to technology per se, just that the profits from automation that robbed them of their livelihood was not shared but hoarded by a few.
Steve (SW Mich)
The tech industry caters to our insecurities. Stand in line at the bank, supermarket, or fast food joint. Faces buried in phones. We avoid real conversations. Kids with their parents dining our - each carrying on conversations with friends across town, not each other. Then there are the people who spew vile and hostility in cyberspace, but won't to your face. Those in the tech industry will do what industry does, make money. They will do all they can to keep us tethered to their phones.
Ron (Denver)
I tend to agree with Neil Postman on a skeptical view of new technology. He was a teacher and author that eloquently spoke about the dangers of television in the 1980's. He noted every media has an agenda. Aside from the content, the new media itself changes our culture. Seeing a majority of people interacting with their smart phones, oblivious to the world around them, is a culture change.
RJ Miller (Mississippi Delta)
Thank you Mr. Brooks for this editorial. Well said and right on. As a father of four, ages 19, 17, 14 and 12 - I knew this intuitively about technology and social media when my oldest obtained his first iphone at the end of 8th grade. I feared my children's loss of "consciousness" to the mind-numbing social media onslaughts. I have to say the so far my children (3 of which are girls) are not struggling from depression or anxiety and their social lives are fairly vibrant in a real face-to-face reality. I, however, am exhausted!! I have now spent six years trying to educate, inform, monitor, and manage my children's technology and social media. I have no choice other than to do that because the alternative frightens me for my children. My oldest now manages it himself and sees the dangers clearly. I will continue to exhaust myself for my other three because I believe their lives depend on it.
Chris (Monroe, NH)
Good for you, Dad! My kids came along at the cutting edge of this technology, and have had a similarly concerned parental unit. They have grown into strong adults with a very healthy dose of skepticism of technology of all sorts, while at the same time availing themselves of the benefits of increased connectedness. We can have it both ways, and your attention to this will benefit your kids for a lifetime, even if they can be a little cranky about it now!
Denny Graham (Tucson, AZ)
First, humans like many animals are innately curious. Second, many humans are not only curious, but very innovative. We can't help it, it's in our DNA. As I see it, most of the changes, and associated challenges that humans are facing are due to technology; it started thousands of years ago, but we humans are now having trouble coping with the technological changes, particularly the rate of change, and some of the unintended negative consequences. With the challenges that we humans face. we are going to need a lot of tech to maintain and hopefully improve our present quality of life, and to avoid premature extinction. GO TECH!
Ehj (LA)
Tech industry is lacking in principles and values. It’s now very clear. Anything that doesn’t struggle to put human values first will eventually be ignored by us, human. At least, I believe this...
redweather (Atlanta)
Many thanks for this column. Social media is a social cancer of epic proportions.
M Kathryn Black (Provincetown, MA)
I liked this piece, but I don't think TECH itself is inherently evil. Like anything else human beings use, it's a tool, and we can use a tool well or misbehave with it. I do think that some TECH companies are needlessly intrusive. I have a pay-as-you-go plan for my smartphone and within the last few months it started showing me ads just so I could text someone, and would show a series of ads while the phone was charging. Now I feel like I want to change my plan to get away from these intrusions into my personal space. Personally, I wouldn't give a child younger than 13 a smartphone. I don't think they are mature enough. A simple flip-phone to keep in touch would be adequate, and most allow the user to take photos and text. For older children, parental controls should be used, in my opinion. I grew up calling an operator to connect me to a call. I lived in a rural area that didn't have dial service until I was older, and that was a very novel thing for me. The world of technology has moved at record speed. Before I knew it a man landed on the moon, and nothing would ever be the same. I found TECH to be more user friendly in its early days than it is now. Things are more complicated now and things are more apt to break down or freeze up. One has to have a lot of wealth to afford the best machines, but for someone like me who uses an old MacBook and a cheap Galaxy on an occasional basis, it is enough. My life is not defined by what is on-line, and never will be.
Jack Cerf (Chatham, NJ)
The problem with Brooks's model is that it ignores monetization. As a social medium, the internet started out free because the people using it for that purpose were essentially "borrowing" the excess capacity of equipment that their schools or employers had bought for other purposes. Once it became a mass medium, the problem was how to pay for infrastructure and content costs on a vastly larger scale. While some providers of premium content (like NYT) have gotten away with a paywall, most consumers demand "free." As with broadcast media, "free" really means selling eyeballs to advertisers, targeted as effectively as possible. Everything Brooks complains about follows from that, including cultivating the worst impulses of people who want shallow because that's what they're capable of. When Warhol said everyone in the future would be famous for 15 minutes, he didn't know how it would happen, but he knew there was an immense unmet demand for 15 minutes of fame. Zuckerberg et al. figured out how to meet it. The news feed and cat videos are part of it. So are comment kite tails like this one, with the little dopamine rush from the upward thumb.
Stovepipe Sam (Pluto)
Technology is like water, air or food - whether it is fire, tools or information. Without it, we would not survive. But, like, water, food or air, technologies like software and hardware, should be ubiquitous and constantly in the background, like the beating heart or the inhale and exhale of the lungs. In other words, it's not something we should have to think about 24/7. We are immersed in it, but it should not immerse us. That is not happening at the moment. It is controlling us, we are not controlling it.
The Poet McTeagle (California)
"Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices." Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us "freedom", and "protection from tyranny", the gun industry merely saw itself as providing devices to enable well-trained and regulated hunters to bring home edible wild meat and poultry for the family dinner table. The problem with both these imaginings is that they are not big money makers, and when taxes on the very wealthy are nearly non-existent, greed on steroids by sociopaths who feel free to do evil in search of vast fortunes is twisting our society in all sorts of unexpected and terrible ways.
Berkeleygrad (San Francisco, CA)
David, if you think "asocial " media has dangers now, just wait until the combination of quantum computing and artificial intelligence.
Richard (Madison, WI)
Curious that Brooks avoided the issue of the hour: net neutrality.
A2CJS (Norfolk, VA)
David, you are overreacting. Didn't you read that the FTC is ending net neutrality. Before long, the only sites available will be Fox News and other high rollers favored by the Trump administration. With any luck, there will be a wholesale abandonment of the entire industry. Newspapers might even come back.
Jeff (Einstein)
The mainstream media's recent rush to vilify digital media as disruptive, addictive and arrogant is more than a little hypocritical. It's also a pretty convenient way to smear your competition in a massive media turf war, a war whose digital high priests and drug lords are winning hands down. Digital notwithstanding, American history is lousy with industries that deliberately and secretly invoked addiction in the design, marketing and sale of products that have killed tens of millions Americans since World War II. Over the next two or three years alone, more Americans will die from addictions to tobacco, sugar and fat than have died in all our wars combined -- guaranteed. Those industries (and their paid proxies in government and academia) all turned to the media as the corporate tool of choice to promote and defend their addictive and often deadly products decades before the Internet emerged. And alas, the amount of fake news generated over the past century via compromised relationships between commercial media franchises and major advertisers would fill countless libraries. Those who read my work know I'm not defending the Silicon Valley robber barons who continue to enrich and engorge themselves at immense expense in time, money and freedom for the rest of us. Merely suggesting that sheer arrogance and fake news didn't begin with digital. Seems like drinking your own Kool-Aid just comes with the media territory these days. Sad and pathetic...
Roberto M Riveros A (Bogota, Colombia)
Very good article, well put.
John Bermingham (Greenwood Village Colorado)
As we struggle to stay in front of all of the stuff available to us one could love the instant gratification that we get from Twitter and all of the others . But If we want meaningful dialogue we could take a walk with a friend. Share an idea or a problem. It can get to the heart of the matter as a walk usually lasts for an hour instead of 30 seconds.
Ed (Texas)
"The big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth: Their technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive." David Brooks is right but he needs to stop saying "tech". He should be saying "social media". Tech taught us about the planets of the solar system, cures for many cancers, and supercomputers that we use to analyze the whole world, expanding human knowledge and understanding. Scientists all over the world depend on tech. That your kid is wasting time on social media is a real thing (and I think a problem) but it's a corner of "tech".
Jetblue71 (Berkeley, CA)
The sad fact is, is that we're a great nation but increasingly less and less a good nation. What about goodness for goodness sake? What about honoring each other simply because we share the same life, same interests, and same journey while on this planet? What about the incalculable sacrifice, loss and waste of human potential on the altar of greed, hatred and ego. In the pursuit of wealth, judgement, and unjust power, we are throwing something precious, vital and essential into the gutter.
Alex (Miami)
David, tech companies aren't good or evil. They are run by capitalists who are motivated solely by seeking profit. You might as well claim that any company marketing and selling its legal product in the US is evil. Is HBO evil for producing and Game of Thrones because people become addicted to the show? How about NASCAR? Sometimes NASCAR drivers get killed. They are surely well paid, and choose to put their lives at risk, but they do lose occasionally die as a form of entertainment. Is the NFL a reasonable example, as only the "employees" are the human wreckage, not the consumers. Maybe a much more appropriate column would be to examine whether capitalism encourages inherently evil behavior. Apparently, it does, but only if there is a profit to be made.
They said the same thing about television but we now know that the more TV you watch, the happier and healthier you are.
AnneSN (Redding, CT)
People who live in glass houses really shouldn't throw stones. I get several "alerts" from The Times every day. What's the point of these alerts if not to induce me to click into the Times's app? The fact is that anyone can stop using this stuff anytime they want. For decades network television was the thing that made us dumb and destroyed our kids. Remember Newton Minnow's "vast wasteland?" Now it's Facebook. The fact is, all this stuff can become horribly addictive. Too much of anything is usually a bad thing.
William Burgess Leavenworth (Searsmont, Maine)
There are many varieties of "tech." Some will find a treatment for your previously incurable disease. Others will invade your home through the internet and make inccessible decades of your research stored on your computer, while making it impossible to retrieve your backups on external hard drives. The latter should be made vulnerable to the castle doctrine, and it should be legal to treat an unsolicited internet intruder the same way you would treat a housebreaker in the middle of the night.
James B. Huntington (Eldred, New York)
A fine servant but a poor master.
rickob (los angeles)
In every aspect of life, each of us are tempted by attractive choices that can stymie us, waste our time and money, or even lead to addictions. Personal discipline and self-worth are the two attributes needed to navigate through this thicket for the rest of our lives, but until we gradually attain them we need thoughtful, caring adults to lead us by example. Most adults (parents) today seem to need guidance as well.
newell mccarty (Tahlequah, OK)
It would be nice if we sat on the porch and discussed literature, art and politics with friends and family. But few did--we watched "Happy Days" or soaps. Social media is addictive but a better escape. It is the only forum for ideas and information that the mainstream media does not control. Or we can vote for twiddle dee or twiddle dum while the seas rise, or oligarchies decide what is best for us. Social media is the only democratic townhall we have.
Ben (Florida)
Sure, bad ideas and misinformation. Just what we need.
Soleil (Montreal)
Dear David and all your NYT readers; wishing you all a safe, joyous and happy Thanksgiving celebration! I'm focused on this wish and share it with all good folk.
EW (South Florida)
I believe, rather darkly, that what we're seeing is merely the next iteration of the wholesale hacking of the human mind. It started eons ago when ruling classes allied themselves with religion to amass power through mass hypnosis. Rather than enslave their subjects against their will, they managed the trick of hacking those supernaturally attuned parts of the brain into producing willful submission. As religiosity has lost some of its grip in the western world, we've shifted our attention towards the omniscient portals we hold in our hands. By playing into natural human proclivities for social acceptance, sexual attraction and competition, these devices have taken a particularly rigorous hold on the emotions. We need to use these devices and apps with Extreme Caution, recognizing that they're designed primarily for the benefit of those who control them, not the users. Decentralizing ourselves away from such platforms and back into our normative social environments is the only answer. Whatever overtures are made by these large technology companies will simply provide more cover for a toxic business plan.
phil (canada)
Excellent article that nails the reason why big tech can't save us; it favours the mundane over the profound and tries to hide the resulting emptiness with a barrage of disorganized and increasingly disengaging information bites.
urmyonlyhopeobi1 (Miami)
If you are really interested in antitrust, don't look any further than the tech companies
Agent GG (Austin, TX)
So much of this runs contrary to how developers and startups view the world, which is conveniently for them a world in which human behavior revolves only around their product. So many developers and new products tout the complete absence of human interaction and normal human behavior as a virtue. There you see the sickness in tech today. Oh, and also, did anyone notice that in the last 5 years, 'tech' has now become exclusively just software and apps for mobile devices? There is near zero interest in any other kind of technology in mass media, such as sensors, physical analyses, new materials, new tools, etc., which used to be widespread and commonly written about for general public consumption.
David Wright (Canada)
Does it matter that I read this on my phone?
Shawn (San Francisco )
I usually don’t agree with Mr. Brooks but this op ed was an awesome piece of insight into the tech industry. Well done!
Mike (San Diego)
Forget if tech is evil or not. This is consumerism and advertising hijacking what were once profitless engines of interaction. No more. Ever since going public they have to show return for capitalist overlords. In light of this well-known fact, does anyone really find their business as usual behavior subversive? It's baked into their business model! Drop out folks! It's not as radical as it sounds to you [now]. Your personal work and lives have been hijacked by advertising consortiums. You should be outraged.
Knucklehead (Charleston SC)
When the net neutrality rollback goes into place many may not be able to afford access to social media if they aren't favored clients. Making it much easier to know less. At least someone is looking out for our online behavior.
1138 (San Antonio)
Online is how most people read the NYT.
barbara jackson (adrian mi)
This is dumb. No THING is evil, it's what the human race does with it . . .
Matt (Salt Lake City UT)
Excuse me, but all the companies you have listed are publicly traded. The primary objective of most publicly traded companies is to maximize shareholder profits. If you want to live in a society where decisions are made based on perceived public good I recommend moving to China or Bhutan.
RBV (Minnesota)
My phone remains powered off. I use it for emergency back up, such as driving during a snowstorm. That's it. And you know what? I do great without it. I still have friends. I still get to places on time. I read a map or use the GPS in my car. And all those trolls and bot calls do not get through to me. A landline with an answering service works great. Why must we be constantly connected? It's wrecking us.
dmbones (Portland, Oregon)
This sure sounds like the worries over television just a few decades past. Then, research on TV, including from the Lancet, warned parents of a link between children's excessive viewing habits and long-term health problems such as poor fitness and raised cholesterol. It also claimed that youthful TV addicts were more likely to smoke, linked television viewing to obesity and another to aggressiveness, and found association between TV viewing among toddlers and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at school age. Television and social media do entrance young minds to the exquisite variety of external stimulation available to humanity, but at the expense of the infinitely deeper and self-affirming experience of one's internal consciousness. Providing early education on yoga as a pathway to meditation would provide an experiential motivation for linking young minds to this inner reality.
JFR (Yardley)
Technology shouldn't be thought of as good or evil, it just is. Unlike guns which are designed to be machines that kill - animals, other people, and especially ourselves, tech has unleashed human creativity and global commerce because it is fiendishly efficient. But the other side of that sword is that its spectacular success at reaching people can be perverted - immoral advertising, conspiracy theories, terrorism and recruiting terrorists, and addictive behaviors. Technology isn't evil, humans have evolved weaknesses - gullibility, a need to blame somebody, and addictions. Ironically, education can fix most of this - but education that will depend crucially on technology itself.
RM (Los Gatos, CA)
There is nothing stopping anyone from using technology to make room for things that truly matter. I wonder if "tech" were pitched that way it would make much difference. The people needing that sort of compulsion might be unlikely to be affected by it.
Iskawaran (Minneapolis)
I knew it was bad when Jack (Twitter) banned Milo for stuff his followers said while allowing many more vile and dangerous lunatics to maintain accounts. Now Google/YouTube are planning on censoring viewable videos based upon users' web searches. People who search the "wrong" things won't be allowed to see things that Google/YouTube think might "trigger" them. Like the old movie "Bananas": "Differences of opinion should be tolerated, but not when they're too different. Then he becomes a subversive mother."
Nelly (Half Moon Bay)
It isn't tech of itself that is causing such problems. It is the evolution and growth of Madison Avenue advertising and sophisticated social control through what used to be known as propaganda that is this country's biggest problem. And our biggest export too: a poisonous pop culture consumed with greed, over consumption, and the most superficial and paltry values that have displaced more traditional societal wisdom. To put our lives in the hands of advertising operatives, and the ever more sophisticated control of those who prey upon us, is our hugest mistake. Tech as a vehicle to promulgate these cruddy values is highly effective, but not the origin of our and the World's present state of confused angst. To understand that, one must delve into the evolution and history of "advertising," as it is politely called. Social control, promulgated for strictly pecuniary motives are the bane of this day and age. One can start their study of this phenomena easily enough by first learning about Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew. Much of the "tech" that we criticize doesn't have to be so destructive. It is so because of the commercial antecedents that ultimately direct and support that social technology. Mr. Brooks, or anyone else, won't ever quite get this until they study the sociopathy of advertising.
Jose Pardinas (Collegeville, PA)
When the gatekeepers to all information become corporate entities like Alphabet/Google closely allied and subservient to powerful central governments, their ability to block, redirect, and misdirect users' quest for alternative information promises to create an echo chamber that will completely negate the unfettered access to competing narratives and interpretations once naively believed the Internet Age would bring.
K (San Francisco, CA)
I think David Brooks misunderstands that the internet industry is [1] a small part of the tech industry and [2] social media is a subset of the internet industry. I find this op-ed to be overly reductionist in its thesis. There are certainly problems with social media, just as there have been with every type of media. However, the driving problem behind all of this is capitalism (specifically the "engagement" metric being equated with valuation by investors because click can be monetized), not technology. Until we hold VCs, and other investors who control the flow of money, accountable for how they measure valuation, I think it's a bit remiss to point fingers at a few individual companies.
Philip (<br/>)
This op-ed starts with the apparent assumption that there was a significant degree of deep forms of consciousness in our world before Tech. I'm not so sure. I agree though that these forms are not being nourished. A good solution is to encourage deep thought, books, in-person discussion, etc., and take to your device in between. I download books and buy them in book stores and sometimes discuss them (even online). I suspect (hope) many people do this, though how many in the younger generations do, I don't have the stats.
Casual Observerf (Los Angeles)
People become addicted to sources of pleasure that they find irresistible. They can become so focused upon re-experiencing those pleasures that they fail to deal with important tasks which affect their well being. All the great ethical and religious traditions try to discourage seeking pleasurable experiences for their own sake because of the difficulties many have with controlling themselves with respect to them. Businesses have exploited this phenomenon throughout human history. Tobacco is a prime example, as are substances like alcohol, and sugar. There is nothing insidious about tech companies doing similarly but it is appropriate for society through government and the mass media by journalists and others to enlighten the public about them. Censorship is a step too far, I think.
D Morris (Austin, TX)
Erez Yoeli of Harvard and David Rand of Yale have been studying the effects of the internet on human interactions for years, and they have concluded, through the results of carefully controlled experiments, that using the emails and other digital media does harm to social interactions in a remarkably powerful way. Our communications evolved via face-to-face interactions, where we took cues from one another, cues like facial expressions, eye movements, the cadence of our speech, and body gestures in general. Even a slight hesitation in response can be read as meaning a lack of honesty in the other, and therefore we do not trust, we wonder what was going on in the mind of the other during the delay in response, and we are less altruistic as a result. Emails promulgate distance from one another, such that the whole idea of having a "global village" brought to you by digital media has no basis in fact. David Brooks is right, and there is experimental evidence to back up some of what he says in this article. Bully for you, David, and please keep reading.
fran soyer (wv)
"How Evil Is Tech?" Sent from my iPhone, November 20, 2017
ondelette (San Jose)
In 2000, companies producing big title games on gaming machines -- Nintendo, PS2,, XBox, had to have their ads submit to ratings to determine which were too violent for children. That was because at least some of them had actually run psychophysical tests, including skin sensitivity, eye tracking and questionnaires, probing what types of games would hold the attention of the gamer the best, and would maximize return to play the games again as frequently as possible. The games which succeeded in this openly addiction-creating agenda were the most violent first person shooter games. The thrill that made people play often and long and return again and again was not the thrill of winning the game but of beating and vanquishing -- killing in the gaming sense -- the opponent or opposition. That anyone in media -- currently involved in something between a catharsis and a hysteria on its own -- would moderate their language and use "some now believe" and "critique" to describe this is only possible because NDAs cover many of those who could actually tell you about how deliberate all of this was. Well, #MeToo to you. Underneath a very different kind of NDA is also a protection of noxious corporate behavior. Addicting the whole population isn't as sexy and won't get the coverage of harassment because all it ever did to hurt people is ruin a few million educations and kill a few thousand motorists. And none of the people who know about it are beautiful and famous.
William Starr (Nashua, NH)
"Tech will have few defenders on the national scene." Defenders can be bought. "The big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth:" 'My GOD I'm making a huge amount of money here!'
Red Allover (New York, NY )
Electronic communication systems are "prisons without walls" (McLuhan) and prisons for which we line up and patiently wait to join . . . Each individual is atomized, walking along, eyes fixed on the screen, ears filled with music--or chat from other, identical sleepwalkers. Americans are spending their lives inside fantasy worlds created by big corporations . . . It is the capitalist dream of total control come true, no coercion required. "The waking share one common world, but asleep, each dreamer is lost in his dream." (Heraclitus) Socialist Revolution is the big wake up call . . . . Social media should be Socialized to serve all of society.
Winthrop Staples (Newbury Park, CA)
Tech is just a part of, one means of the infliction of a much larger overarching social dysfunction resulting from the 1%'s evil brainwashing of our society to eliminate the human virtue and crucial survival skill of self discipline and moderation - in order to gain evermore wealth and power over common citizens. 24/7 advertisement for decades on TV, radio and now IT devices has successfully turned a large fraction of our population into emotion-driven gluttons which causes the unnecessary deaths of many 100,000's of thousands a year in the United States. And apparently our educational and religious institutions have all been paid off, because they do almost nothing to try to recover the fundamental age-old logic of enjoying pleasures in moderation. If this seems like a overly alarmist view to readers, just recall the last time you saw an advertisement that cheered and celebrated excess by shouting in big text the word "EXTREME" or "THIS IS ADDICTIVE" as if this represented the most important spiritual or religious value or commandment.
Jeff Nathan (Chicago)
So, with net neutrality vanishing will David Brooks finally fade out?
MKR (Philadelphia)
"The political assault on this front is gaining steam." Like the assault on net neutrality rules.
Jonathan Swift (midwest)
Sadly, for many people the unexamined life is not only livable but also referable.
Cody McCall (tacoma)
It's not 'tech'. It's the people who use--and abuse--'tech', e.g., 'social media' facilitates all manner of 'evil' behavior due mostly to the anonymity of users. It's not the 'tool', it's the users.
Larry Dipple (New Hampshire)
Tech’s main mission today is to find ways to, 1) sell you more stuff faster under the guise of providing you an information service connecting to your friends, family and business associate, 2) gather more information on you so they can sell you more stuff faster. That’s it in a nutshell. Don’t let them fool you. And those poor tech workers who say they do it to make the world a better place? Ok. The individual worker may say that, but their CEO, Board of Directors and shareholders don’t see it that way. We got along pretty well before the tech boom and I have no doubt we could get along pretty well with much less of it. I can’t say all of it because there are real situations where it is important such as in medicine, research, power generation, manufacturing and communications (not social media or electronic entertainment). And we must stop putting tech giants on pedestals as if they are gods. “Oh but his iPhone changed the way we communicate.” Maybe so. But who is the person who invented the auto airbag saving thousands of lives? Who is the person who invented a certain medical device, vaccine or procedure saving thousands of lives? Care to take a guess who they are? I have a feeling their names are not on the tip of your tongue.
Eyes Open (San Francisco)
Not rocket science: like any capitalistic enterprise, the point of the game is to create something that people probably don't need, convince them through marketing and advertising (which use very sophisticated psychological targeting tactics) that they do, and relieve them of their money. I think all the evil is contained in that explanation. What more do you need to know? Well, you could also note that living in a digital world is not living in reality, really, but a pathetic cardboard cutout of reality. No smells, no wind in your hair, no bird sounds, no crinkly smiles from friends--oh all can be represented, but they real ARE NOT. What then are real experiences and real feelings? There's a horribly creepy and chilling lack of soul and spirit and human warmth and sincerity in the tech industry and its battalions of personnel. It's scary. I think it's because none of them studied poetry or art or theater or music in school.
van schayk (santa fe, nm)
Brooks as have many others ignore the dynamics of the tech industry and its users. Their first mistake is to ignore China. With over a billion potential customers they have the scale, the lack of privacy concerns and a mercantilist government that is driving AI development and IT in general. Chinese companies are emerging as the formidable competitors the US companies. Taxes aside, it makes little sense to hamper US companies with short-sighted regulatory actions. Reining in US tech will only clear the way for their Chinese competitors. As to the nature and shape of tech offerings, that is for users to decide.
Brunella (Brooklyn)
Less virtual, more real, tactile, empathetic. I still feel like an analog girl, living in a digital world -- and one of the few walking around the neighborhood without my cell phone, still able to make eye contact and take in the surrounding landscape. For me there's nothing worse than gathering with friends who can't separate from their devices and hold a meaningful conversation, without interrupting to glance, text or email (no, they aren't surgeons on call). Tech has altered behavior by eroding manners. Look up.
Erik L. (Rochester, NY)
Evil, no, deeply flawed, yes. Three decades spent creating advanced applications has brought me much satisfaction, but also sharpened misgivings with what we have wrought. Yet these concerns do not align with those Mr. Brooks posits here. My 'three main critiques of big tech' are the squelching of unpopular ideas, lack of adequate regulation, and the fragility of the technology in question. The overarching issue being unwarranted confidence in the industry. It goes against conventional wisdom to argue technology stifles innovation, yet that is promulgated via the illusory ‘wisdom of the crowd.’ Technology is a tool, and like any other, many don’t know how to use it properly. What's to know? A skilled construction worker will tell you that most people don't know how to wield a hammer, despite popular belief otherwise, and the same is true of technology. The crowd accepts its own supposed wisdom, with the blessing of the industry which it enables. Convenient. This ensures the industry will never be adequately regulated. The recent lack of respect for expertise, curiously does not extend to technology: most people unquestioningly believe in it to a disturbing degree. They should not. The technology is rife with problems, gladly swept under the rug, as to avoid responsibility and correction. Brittle technology is taken to be the price we pay for such wonders, but that is a lie, borne of the blind allegiance of the customer base. The critiques listed by Mr. Brooks are symptoms.
Ned Rothenberg (Brooklyn)
I don’t always agree with Mr. Brooks but here I give him a hearty ‘Ride On!’ If only we could have a sober and mature National discussion of this all important topic. Alas, it is exactly this problem that has made such discussions impossible.
The Observer (Pennsylvania)
“Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life.” That would be nice, but expecting that from the profit driven tech companies is unrealistic. They are invading and shaping young minds to do tasks that enhance their bottom line. Our modern life has become too invasive, asking for most sensitive information even to conduct any routine tasks, be it for applying for a job, visiting a doctor’s office, applying for a credit card and many more tasks that we do every day. People provide most sensitive information to get a small discount in a store without even thinking whether that information will be abused or not. Google knows more about you than you know about yourself. How comforting! It is our responsibility to use the tools like Face book, or Tweeter with caution and limits. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children and show them the down side of getting addicted to a product which makes money by addicting you. This is same as using alcohol. Use in moderation and with caution it could be enjoyable but use in excess, could ruin you life. However, since the Tech companies will not self regulate, the government must make legislation to hold them accountable for the impact of their product.
Steve Donato (Ben Lomond, CA)
I agree with absolutely everything David Brooks writes here except for two things. Now I hate to sound cynical, but in the spirit of "let's not kid ourselves," I'd like to suggest that, while at some point in their lives these tech giants might have been out to make the world a better place, right now it seems to me these people are after one thing: money, LOTS of money. This is the driver here, not altruism. The second point has to do with humility, which Mr. Brooks proposes is one thing that's necessary for some positive changes to come from all this mess. He's right. Humility is exactly what's called for. But you won't get it from these tech giants, our modern day "masters of mankind"--when you think you're a god, who needs humility?
Purity of (Essence)
How evil as tech? As evil as they come. That's unfettered capitalism for you: all other things equal, the worst or most wicked individuals and firms will be the ones who will be most likely to be rewarded because greed is rewarded under capitalism. If there's money to be made in getting people addicted then even those firms who are run by people who would not like to ruin people will have no choice to do the same or see their market share decline. If you want capitalistic enterprises to not be exploitative you have to regulate them, and tech is barely regulated at all. It's barely regulated because tech (and the venture capital behind it) does a very good job of lobbying against regulation. The oligopolistic tech giants are particularly bad when it comes to this.
Tom (maui)
Humans have not fully adapted to electric lights after more than 100 years. How long will it it take to adapt to this new global communication system?
Steve Sedlmayr (San Francisco )
The author poses a question and then fails to answer it. I strongly recommend reading "What Technology Wants" by Kevin Kelly. Irrespective of that, there is no such thing as an evil technology, or even evil people, but rather only evil actions committed by people. The technology in question (I would like to point out that shovels are technology as well), networked computing, was designed to connect people. It is humans, driven by capitalism, who made the conscious decision to weaponize it into a tool to hijack attention. Most of those people aren't even "technologists" - they are marketers, psychologists and executives. Those are the people, as in every industry, who call the shots. Engineers are just the - mostly well paid, to be sure - factory workers who implement the visions of their employers. Reporters, please stop: demonizing computers, computing and computer science; calling the latter "technology" as if everything humans have created up to this point suddenly doesn't count as such; advocating some sort of neo-Luddism predicated on the above sloppy, lazy definition of technology; buying into and propagating the myth of engineering exceptionalism; and using the latter to demonize engineers, the workers, for the actions of their employers. Tobacco farmers aren't demonized for Big Tobacco, and auto-plant workers and coal miners aren't demonized for their climate-change-inducing industries. The story of the software industry is the same story as that of every other.
RNW (Berkeley CA)
Brooks is astute is highlighting many of Big Tech's evils, especially its daily assault on our habits and consciousness. He is absolutely wrong when he claims that the "big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth" of its insidious effects. Tech executives will never acknowledge this on their own, any more than Trump voters will miraculously acknowledge that they have voted for a juvenile sociopath installed in power by foreign Kleptocrats to weaken and destroy the U.S., their existential enemy. Only we, tech consumers and users and in many cases its profiteers, can break the bonds of tech. Only we can become aware of what we are doing to ourselves. Only we can choose to reach out to each other in actual space and real time and move one other's souls.
Frederick (Philadelphia)
The most "evil" social networks in the world are still radio and television. Those two medium still have more influence on our culture and politics than anything in the tech world. If CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc treated Donald Trump as a serious politician instead of a source of entertainment during the Republican primaries, I doubt he would be in the White House right now and the current debate about Russian influence would have been relegated to the trashcan of history.
Bob Laughlin (Denver)
"The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money"...... No really! Someone in America is making money off our weaknesses. It can't happen here.... Extreme capitalism is eating our Nation, our culture, and our planet. It is going to destroy US. The people. We are unable as people to keep up with the advances in technology that are coming so fast these days. I have speculated that if we survive as a species we might evolve a right hand that more resembles a holster for a device and a left hand clenched in a circle to hold a water bottle. With necks designed to look only down. The same things were said about radio and TV...... Oh oh. We're doomed.
Ralph (pompton plains)
I don't use social media and if the New York Times provided subscriptions of its papers where I live, I wouldn't be on line now. But the "Me Too" women's empowerment movement, which is uncovering wide spread sexual exploitation of women on the job, would not have gained traction without the internet. Thank social media for that.
I have grown to believe that social media and the internet are destined to be the downfall of civilized society, as it continues to degrade the quality and quantity of interpersonal human interaction and discourse. A participatory democracy cannot survive if the populace can't even agree on basic facts.
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
About half the people commenting miss the point. Brooks is not saying technology is all bad. He is pointing out that there are big downsides to technology. And just because those downsides do not apply to everyone, particularly not to rich, educated, professions, that does not mean there are not downsides. Technology had definitely mostly been a force of evil in schools and the negative consequences are well documented.
Tony Edwards (California)
People can always vote with their wallets and fingers. I can't imaging Apple being thought of as a monopoly when Apple has less than 30% of the market for computers and less than 30% of the market for smartphones. How is that a monopoly? There are other search and email providers other than Google. People had email long before Google was an idea and they will long after Google is gone. People who don't want to be on social media or who get annoyed at endless videos of cats playing can avoid those apps. If parents want to give their kids expensive devices (my parents had neither the money or inclination) then that's the fault of the parents. Parents and teens need to realize that they're responsible for their own lives and not willingly cede control to companies that ask for it.
Sagrilarus (Annapolis, MD)
It's not always that easy. I volunteer with my kids' robotics team and we're required to be on Slack for announcements. I'm also required to be on Facebook for updates on my friend's daughter's cancer treatments . . . the list goes on. At times you volunteer to get on a tech service, at times it's advantageous to be on one, at times you have to. I actively work to limit my time on these services, but often I get chewed out for it because someone I need to communicate with has decided what channel they're going to use and I'm stuck going for the ride with them.
Emsig Beobachter (Washington DC)
Apple is not a monopoly in the pure sense, but a firm that can have market control.
Arthur Reingold (Berkeley, Ca)
Just to remind Mr Brooks that not all associations are causal, and some some may have the direction of the effect backwards. Perhaps more time on devices leads to more loneliness or depression, but it is also certainly plausible that loneliness/depression leads to more timecarefulky in devices. Who us to say which is correct, unless the data are collected carefully and longitudinally/over time.
AndyW (Chicago)
They said the same thing about TV in the sixties, movies in the forties, radio in the twenties and books in centuries past. Back when ninety percent of the human population worked in the fields fourteen hours a day, six days a week, were we really socially better off? If humanity survived Gillian’s Island, it will survive the smartphone.
It wasn’t as pervasive and degrees matter.
Phil Zaleon (Greensboro,NC)
"Tech" is only partially guilty for the downward vortex of society writ large. Tech is a but a means that can (and is) used both for good and ill. If this past Presidential election has taught us anything, it has demonstrated that the purchase humans have on rationality and values is precarious, and that just as there is an increasing economic divide in our nation, there is an even wider chasm in human aspiration, reasoning, and goodness. It is not the technology... it is the human user!
Lmca (Nyc)
I think David Brooks has to read Marshall McCluhan's seminal book, The Medium is the Message to get to a better argument.
Richard Head (Mill Valley Ca)
Yes there are some bad things happening to society related to Technical advances. However, its like drug use, obesity, believing fake news etc. it is ultimately the individual that is responsible for their reaction, Heroin? Alcohol? all very tempting to many but again it is the individual that must say No. We can't blame the tech companies for 'tricking us' to become addicts. We are the ones that make that decision. Reading that Hilary is kidnapping kids for sex? Yes, you believe that if you really hate her to begin with. Each of us has to assume more responsibility for our actions. What we eat, how we exercise, using drugs, time on internet, time watching TV etc. These are our responsibilities and , as I have learned, it is usually ourselves that we can have some control over ,not others.
jacquie (Iowa)
Look no further than our Tweeting President to see how evil tech can be. It might even cause a nuclear war.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but what gives weight to the words of Trump?
Diego (NYC)
"I use an app called Moment to track and control my phone usage." I'll save your app some trouble. If you're using your phone enough to warrant using an app to tell you how much you're using your phone, you're using your phone too much.
CWH (.)
"... you're using your phone too much." Perhaps, but Brooks is in the news business, so he needs to be on the phone a lot. It would be interesting to know what Brooks regards as unnecessary or excessive phone use.
HeartMD (Michigan)
I live in Ann Arbor, a college town. Despite my advancing age I spend a fair amount of time down on or near campus frequenting the cafes, stores, and restaurants there. On a beautiful autumn day recently I watched the students walking by, all with earbuds in place staring at their screens interacting with others virtually. Likely feeling lonely, as college students frequently are, and swiping right and left on their apps with the hope of meeting or "hooking up" with someone. As a man watching this, here is what I thought of the young men walking by, "Hey you!! Look up! You just walked past a dozen spectacular young women. Why not put away the phone and say, Hello!". We now have created a world where people claim to be starving emotionally in the midst of plenty. How sad....
R (Kansas)
Tech is not evil, but social media is used for evil. Any platform that allows for extensive bullying and shaming is evil.
tr connelly (palo alto, ca)
How evil are columnists who pontificate from the East Coast without bothering to come out to Silicon Valley and meet and talk with the folks they think they know; who forget that when they themselves were growing up on TV addiction they were considered more likely to be depressed, suicidal and lonely. Yet Mr. Brooks makes good points about how technology executives should think about their power and public responsibilities - yes, they have those, because it is the public that gives them the right to operate as corporate entities with limited personal liability for what they produce. Yet, Mr. Brooks, it is your Republican Party friends who preach the uber-supremacy of shareholder value (which tech had clearly excelled at producing) versus responsibility to the public. How evil as that?
Tom (Midwest)
Being a techie but without twitter or facebook accounts, I feel this is one of your better articles.
Richard McIntosh (Santa Cruz CA.)
Tech in and of itself isn’t evil. Technology grew at an astounding rate for years (see Moore’s Law). The innovation capabilities of the technology and its use’s and applications have mesmerized us for years. It’s uses are limitless. The issue is the users. Accurately understanding applications and their long term effects still is in its infancy. While some (Russian influences on political campaigns) can get out in front of popular understanding, the regulations and monitoring required to provide protection are woefully inadequate.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Moore's law projected scaling of a technology that provides for more functionality in a smaller volume on less power, but the architecture presently in use is directly descended from chips developed decades ago. The human brain's root data storage medium must store data as densely as DNA stores the genetic code.
Grove (California)
Tech can be used for good or evil. Greed will make any endeavor evil.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Technology generally makes anything more abundant for less cost, within the limits of resources it consumes.
Christopher Scott Andrews (Berkeley CA)
It's all the rage on the NYT to claim there is a social movement afoot that will put tech back on its heels. (The headline "How Evil is Tech?" starts from the premise that tech is evil. Crazy hyperbole designed to jump start the tone of the column.) But I've not seen any strong evidence of such a movement. Also, how clever (not) of Brooks to fail to acknowledge that his column is being delivered digitally! It's fine to hate computers but let's not exaggerate the state of public opinion.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Technology is no more "evil" than nature itself. It has no judgement or values of its own.
John (Washington)
I've worked in high tech for about four decades now but that doesn't mean that I embrace it. As an example I find smart phones useful for some tasks besides just being a phone but not essential. Phones are just too small for me when it comes to information content, perhaps because my thumbs pretty much cover my keyboard. I've had strangers comment that it looks like I do real work for a living, and when I ask if it is because of the size of my fingers they say yes, and I disappoint them when I tell them that I'm a cube farmer and just use to do a fair amount of free weights. The screen is also too small to get the content that I like, which is what is what I see on my laptop, so there isn't much of an opportunity to 'get addicted' to anything. As an example even just replying in these pages I may have several pages open on different sources, perhaps downloaded some information and analyzed it in a spreadsheet, and then compose it in a word processor. I still jumble words and look like an idiot, but in the process I may have learned something new and may even follow up on it. I guess it is like a short 5 to 20 minute term paper, and would be impossible for me to do on a smart phone. I like to see a wide choice of articles to read, not some filtered news feed, and hit different sources in the US and Europe. I don't do social media, prefer CDs over typical online music, and haven't enjoyed games since before laptops were available.
Doug (Chicago)
This is one reason why there is a huge resurgence in Dungeons and Dragons as people look for ways to interact in real life.
boji3 (new york)
How evil is this? Well, it certainly is annoying- and I will start with this paper THE NY Times online. As I try to read this article or switch to any other article why do I have to wait until some idiotic ad pops up between the top of page and the headline I want to read? My page freezes until the ad comes up and I am forced to view it. Until that time it is IMPOSSIBLE to move the page or read anything. And this happens every time I want to switch pages.That is an example of the evil that is our manipulated life online. How about eliminating advertisements from most 'necessary websites/newspapers like this one. I, like many others, refuse to buy anything from any company that is shoved in my face online. If we end these obtrusive ads that is a place to start. Some of us would pay an additional few dollars a week so that we don't have to be subjected to this behavior. It ruins the experience of reading this newspaper and ruins the general experience of being online.
Numas (Sugar Land)
Replace "Tech" with "TV" and think "1957" instead of "2017" and David can publish the article back then....
C. M. Jones (Tempe, AZ)
We never elected a Donald Trump in that era. You’re obviously missing the point if you can’t see that. Social media is the vector for fake news. This never existed before tech came along and “democratized” information. Blaming the user is like blaming someone for coming down with an infection: sure there are things they could have done to prevent infection, but they are only human.
Robert (Out West)
I wonder when Mr. Brooks is going to admit that there is this little thing called, let's see, ah yes, "capitalism," and this little thing called capitalism couldn't give a rat's about human values. You cannot have markets built around Schumpeter's "creative destruction," and expect them not to destroy. Marx was wrong about a lot, but he nailed the "in capitalism, all that is solid melts into air." Or more precisely, it translates into some form of capital. Those teens and kids aren't unemployed, Mr. Brooks. They're working for tech companies and ISPs and social media corporations.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
"Capital" is another word for wealth. Money puts a numerical value on wealth, and individual objects or services, to make them easy to exchange. "Capitalism" is the creation of money by fiat, whose value is supported by its capacity to make more of itself when deposited in banks. From this point on, everything else is negotiated and contracted. Ideally, the values of the parties are balanced in the negotiations.
steven (los angeles.)
What "tech" as a category demonstrates is that "disuption" is a remarkably efficient application of standard, caitalist approaches. If Mr. Brooks really wants to deal with any sort of evil and tech he should think about the essential amoralism of capitalism which has the only goal of growing at all costs -- just like cancer. If that involves encouraging addictive behavior -- so be it. If that involves producing so much carbon as to destroy the planet -- so be it. That's the evil.
Roger (Michigan)
Capitalism can certainly be evil and "tech" is getting that way. Are you suggesting abolishing capitalism - hardly practical? I think a better solution would be to learn from other western countries. Allow capitalism but protect consumers from their worst effects. The already rather weak consumer agencies in America are rapidly being neutered by this government.
Bos (Boston)
If you blame tech for all the maladies, David, you may as well blame the B-school teaching the take no prisoner model. People coming out of Harvard or Stanford B school and the like are the forces behind these tech entrepreneurs. But first, not all techs are the same. Lumping them together and binary thinking are a real problem getting us to this sorry state. Big Oil, Big Pharma or Big anything is how progressives think; welfare queens are how conservatives think. But both extremists in both the Tea Party and the OWS are guilty of sloppy thinking. Then they got manipulated by external agitators like Putin to dig their own grave. Why, David, you lost your party, the GOP, because too many extremists and too few willing to compromise. The same with tech. It is neither good nor evil until people go all out for one thing, and one thing alone, the almighty dollars, without thinking of the consequences. So this is the prometheus quest of fire. Use it for cooking or use it for arson, perhaps you need an arbiter, like a government regulator, or parents of social media addicted teens. But if the regulator becomes political and the parents are addicts themselves, you need moral leaders. Finance geeks must be taught Ethics 101 first, then business ethics as a subset. Without their deep pockets, Facebook or Google won't be able to dominate
Steve Bolger (New York City)
All the people in tech who still believe in magic make me think we still have a long way to go to link up causes and effects.
Bos (Boston)
Hi Steve - I wouldn't make a blanket statement like that myself. Magical thinking, to a degree, doesn't confine to Steve Jobs. You need to be at the leading edge without the fear of failures. Cause & effect is subject to experimentation. However, for every Bill Gates, there are thousands like my friend (EE PhD, 3 degrees in 6 years) who tried 4 or 5 startups and failed. To be fair, my friend also has a moral backbone! Sadly. magical thinking resembles a bit of characteristics in high functioning autistic man-child. See Atlantic about the kid who got fired by Google because of his piece of blog about man v. woman. note: I don't think the co should fire him though, and expose the fact the right cause can still do harm if it doesn't take things into considerations. But I digress. Some of these tech geniuses like Bill Gates do grow up. Some don't. That is why I am always against blanket statements like "tech is evil."
Paul (San Anselmo)
Tech isn't any more evil than any other industry - oil, guns, apparel, tobacco, etc. What's evil is Wall St. Once a company goes public you know longer run your company - Wall St, pension funds (your very own), mutual funds and yes, all of us demand higher returns. This forces managers of public companies to make a Faustian bargain - do what you have to do to get the returns Wall St. (and all shareholders) demand or lose your job. If you achieve of kids spending an average of 10 hours/week on social media your goal to increase returns for the next year is to get kids up to 11 hours/week. That will help improve the teachers pension fund while ruining the children they're trying to teach. Many of those teachers be replaced by an App anyway. We like to think it's something else that's evil but we've constructed a system that reinforces our own worst tendencies. We're all part of it. If your IRA or mutual fund owns Facebook and you want a better retirement you'd better let your kids use it. Difficult choices for all of us.
Paul (San Anselmo)
You can imagine that Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook can make the world a better place. It's hard to imagine a banker goes to work with the same idealism.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Wall Streets makes its money by oscillating companies between public and private status. And all of the products you listed are addictive, including apparel. My wife is addicted to sample sales.
Mariposa841 (Mariposa, CA)
I think it is time for Tech to wake up and realize they are creating an entire new society, and not for the general good, although it provides convenience never before realized. In the negative, what it has done and continues to do is cut off social interaction such as volunteerism so essential especially in the smaller communities. I hate it when people bring their phones to a social gathering and blatantly use them ignoring the companionship of the moment.
Grace S (Walnut Creek, CA)
Another enemy without! I’ll have to stop worrying about books, movies and TV.
Sagrilarus (Annapolis, MD)
The key is to understand the difference between when the device is serving you, and when you are serving it. When you figure that part out you can regain control of the pacing of your life. My biggest issue with it is that to a large extent it is pressed on me when I don't want it. I coach a robotics team and this year one of the other coaches pressed Slack onto us, a glorified chat group that interrupts me when I'm doing other things. I turned off all the notifications, but at that point what purpose is it serving? It's just one more place I have to look to for messages.
Jim (Placitas)
And what, exactly, would motivate tech to this "amazing show of realism and...humility"? In what way is the tech industry different from say, the oil industry or the car industry or the financial industry? What is it about tech that has granted them the illusion of being the only truly altruistic industry? Slogans to Do No Evil, foosball tables, free organic lunches, founders in t-shirts and hoodies? Tech burst out of the dorm rooms and apartments of young geniuses and quickly located the magic formula: Know your customer, give them what they want and the money will follow. This is not cynical, it's reality. Every major sector --- as mentioned above, oil, automotive, financial, and many others --- has the ability to be altruistic and humble in their approach to the market, but rarely does this supersede the profit motive, shareholder return and market share as the driving force. "Doing good" in the world is a second tier target. Tech has been draped with the mantle of the benign dictator, flush with absolute power but expected to work in the best interests of it subjects. When it was discovered Big Tobacco was killing us with their lies it took lawsuits and federal intervention to get them to stop. That and a campaign to get people to quit. I'm not equating Big Tech with Big Tobacco, but expecting tech to behave in a way no other industry ever has seems incredibly naive.
Chauncey (Pacific Northwest)
Anyone who denies what Mr. Brooks says about the data regarding teens and tech has clearly never worked in a middle school or a high school.
Joe (NYC)
The problems Brooks complains about with regard to excessive use and its effects are legitimate, but minor. The real issues are privacy, and the economic and cultural impact and behavior of these companies. One major issue is the way they have completely devalued the work of content creators. The NYT and the rest of the media should be able to relate to it. The music business was hit the earliest, but the rest will follow. Tech companies use content creators' content to make money, but they pay them pennies for it. The promise of independence and free distribution is fools' gold, because no one can make any money from their work. A second is these companies' role in politics. Both as media companies and as massively wealthy lobbyists. A third is their effect on the economy as a whole, which is similar to their impact on content creators. In addition, they have (especially Google and Facebook) made their massive fortunes by invading users' privacy to a degree that is increasingly Orwellian, and could be very easily turned to that purpose with the flip of a switch. And they use their role as media aggregators to manipulate what people see and talk about, either for their own ends, or those who pay for it. They have been left alone for too long, the damage is real, and it must be addressed before it's too late and they're so powerful that they cannot be brought under control.
May MacGregor (NYC)
It has never dawned on me Internet Technology can be such a dark force until Trump. We must know, information age, not by default, enlightens people. Information is readily available, but it comes with a lot of "low grade" or "false" information among good one. People digest more information that don't guarantee they become more intelligent. Also people tend to search for opinions they want to hear; not open to learn opposing views. Internet creates too much "noises," which can crowd out quality information or opinions that matter. We must know not every information/opinion is created equal. Also our life is saturated with unwanted noises. Why we need to know a celebrity just got a baby, Trump just makes another lying tweet.. Internet allows mob democracy (or populism) to thrive. In those echo chambers, people find kindred spirits and they reinforce each other. (If cause is good, this can be a good thing. But if the cause is bad, we got Trump.) Internet can easily be used as a propaganda machine spreading false, biased or political-motivated information to shape public sentiment. This happened in the non-Internet age too. But Internet has made it so efficient in real time. This propaganda machine can appear to be democratic but in fact they can be funded by a billionaire. Finally, Internet without national borders can allow ill-intent foreign power, such as Russians, to intervene our political process. And nobody knows what more than can do.
karen (bay area)
The internet did not create all-new right wing propaganda to thrust on discerning minds. The rise of Fox, Clear Channel, Rush-- etc-- that right wing machine polluted the minds of the average American. As a result of the 20+ years, it was not that hard to convince these already duped souls that Hillary was running a child porn ring out of a DC pizza joint. Tech just took the propaganda to an entirely new level. These "deplorables" were easy targets. We can find new ways to help kids interact, we can regulate tech. Not sure what we can do about the trumpists and others like them. We may have reached the tipping point.
AiKi (Right Here)
Tech has improved my life in countless ways. And if sometimes I succumb to the lure of mindless surfing... well that's my fault! All the newest research (I am physician) is literally at my fingertips. I am old enough to remember going to the library and sifting through paper index cards for hours... finding that the issue of the journal I needed is already checked out/lost/torn. Now I just go to the journal's webpage. My patients are - overall - so much better informed because of the internet, and come armed with a lot of questions. Yes, some old wives' tales are circulating, but most of the patient-level medical information is pretty great! Decided to go on a driving trip to Italy? Go to and have the plane tickets booked and the car rented within minutes... Go on the said trip - no need to book hotels in advance, just click on and see what's available in the town you are happening to be driving through. Decided to reconnect with your high school BFF with whom you had an unfortunate falling-out 30 years ago? Want to know what wine to bring to a dinner party where they will be serving duck? which houseplants require least care? how to teach your dog to heel? how to crochet Tunisian-style? Want to read a silly NYT article about how bad tech and online is? Just go online!
TW (Blue State)
Why does Apple design the iPad to be usable to infants? Is this an accident, or is there a unit in the company actively working to make addicts out of the very young? Why do the top execs at Apple limit their own children's access to tech? Why do they send their children to schools that limit tech? Why don't all serious schools limit tech?
karen (bay area)
Adding this: what is wrong with the parents of these very young children that they allow and encourage this interaction with tech? My son (now 21) never even watched TV till he was over the age of two.
Nancy fleming (Shaker Heights ohio)
It would be amazing ,and I’m for changing the tech.companys image of Themselves.Now if you’ll tell me how I’ll be happy to join that approach. Mean time if parents ,one family at the time,would limit their time on What’s called their smart phone,and the time their kids spend on the same so called smart phone,some kids would not commit suicide. Today’s NYTimes has an article on that. As for smartphones that’s a super Name for something you want to make money selling.I don’t call the buyer smart.
Douglas (Chicago)
I remember this type of screed being written at the turn of the century during the first tech bubble. Only the major players were AOL, Yahoo, and Geocities. Tech is not destroying human intimacy and human contact. Human's utilizing tech irresponsibly are causing the lack of intimacy. Tech is merely a tool that we use, and will always be a tool. It will continue to progress no matter how we complain and mutter about it taking away our intimate spaces and lack of human interaction. Look, it's easy to blame the big boys; Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. But really, we, the consumers, are the ones who drive innovation. The driving force of technology is how to improve consumer needs and wants: how to make it easier for us to buy things, to get somewhere, to get the things we bought, to make the things we buy. I look forward to a brand new world of driverless cars and drone deliveries. And I don't think these innovations will further isolate us, but will form new areas in which we can gather together and be social. That will never go away, no matter how glitzy the tech is.
Blackmamba (Il)
Indeed some genius at the U.S. Patent Office suggested that it was soon likely to close. Since everything that was invented had already been discovered.
Doug Hill (Pasadena)
Douglas, congratulations. You have managed to fit most of the cliches about technology into a few paragraphs, all wrong. I assume from your comments that you have never actually studied the literature on technological change and impact. If you had, you would know that technology is not "just a tool." Intentionally or (more often) unintentionally, a variety of social, psychological and political influences are built into any technology, and those influences become increasingly difficult to circumnavigate or dislodge once the technology becomes established. The driving force of technology is not to "improve consumer needs and wants" (as if improving consumer needs and wants were an inherently positive pursuit, regardless of the social, political, environmental and cultural impacts of those needs and wants) but rather to make money or, more generally, to increase and expand the power of those who exploit it. That's why technology will continue to "progress," i.e., expand, regardless of whether that expansion is beneficial to the greater good. Most of all it is a cliche that new and improved technologies will lead us to a utopian future, which is the direction you seem to be heading when you envision "new areas in which we can gather together and be social." The one thing we can be sure of is that those new areas will be dominated by technology, including the armies of drones you so happily imagine bringing your consumer products to your door.
A. Davey (Portland)
The only way Big Tech can redeem itself is to find a business plan that doesn't hinge on monetizing data about its users and turning users into social media addicts. In a just world, a 21st-century Ralph Nader would spearhead legislation requiring Big Tech to disclose to each user of the "free" services how much money it makes off of them each year. For a fee equal to that amount of money, plus one cent, consumers would be able to continue using the service, except Big Tech would not harvest data about users nor would Big Tech manipulate users' experiences for the sake of ad revenue or extracting even more data about them.
dogless_infidel (Rhode Island)
I'm OK with vilifying social media, but not tech as a whole. My world is wider because of tech. I have libraries full of books and news and information at my fingertips, and museums full of art and culture. I can educate myself on nearly any subject from the comfort of my home or at any point along my travels. I can also contact distant friends and family in a variety of ways, from texts all the way up to Skype, providing a closeness I could never achieve in the days of AT&T long distance and snail mail. I can contact my government entities at will, engaging in protest or support; I can sign petitions and post comments and locate my voter information and check to see how my property was evaluated in the recent reassessment. I could go on all day. Being plugged in may pose some risks, but all it takes is a bit of awareness and the will to avoid them. The benefits, on the other hand, are endless, and they provide a richer and more engaged life for most of us.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
At this point we pay for these things by allowing our activities to be data-mined.
Tony (New york city)
I believe we are all in agreement for the good qualities that technology has provided to the world. Everything good does have a dark side in the real world. These tech firms see customers as nothing but a dollar sign and hide behind the tired slogan of bringing communities together. Till they see the harm that they are responsible for in the world,till they recognize how their tecchnology is being implemented by the enemies of America,hurting Americans the corporate public relation mighty statements ring hollow . Everyone remembers the second in command of the tech firms at the Washington hearings dodging responsbility and offering no plan on how to address the monsters they have unleaded on the country. Funny for all,their brilliance they were outfoxed by the enemy and their troll farms.
TJC (Oregon)
First, full disclosure I worked for large multi-channel companies as a Data Base Marketer, I also worked for Tech, Apple Inc. On Brooks three points. 1) Social Media didn't promise an end to loneliness. It provided a real-time communications channel and as a revenue means to contact people with relevant offers. 2) Tech causes the addiction on purpose to make money. Well this is as true as any loyalty programs or retail high-low pricing that gives the customer a sense of "winning" or "gaming" the system. These methods, "like" by Facebook, Snapchat's Snapstreak, etc. are there to capture behavior to use as data to lower marketing costs, increase revenue, and capture higher margins. Been around since the early cataloging in the 1970's. 3) Apple, Amazon are not monopolies. Apple's major products, iPhone, iPad and computers have many competitors such as Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc. They have large market share, but that isn't the basis for being a monopoly. Apple has only 12-15% of personal computer market share, but it's well over 90% for computers over $1,000 which is almost all their offerings. As for Google, well there was Yahoo but it lost and Google won. I'm not a fan of any one company, but these three points only emphasize the negative and not any positives such as Point 1) Mobile, real time communication, a computer in your pocket Point 2) More efficient marketing, lower company costs higher profits Point 3) Monopolies don't equate to high market share.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The narcissistic presumption that one can beat the house odds keeps the pot bubbling.
David Stihler (Scotts Valley, CA)
I have been in Hi-Tech over 30 years and have invested in multiple degrees and advanced degrees to advance my prominence. When I first entered the field and rubbed shoulders with some of todays founders I was told that computers affect people. It seemed an odd statement, but as new technologies gained traction I saw what appeared to be the beginning of immediacy. I saw professionals strain personal relationships just get some piece of tech. This trend has continued until now I firmly believe it's going to destroy our society.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Writing the "killer app" has become the dream escape from it all.
Jake Rose (San Diego, CA)
Also to blame is the ruling class. At the end of this column, Brooks, says, "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices." The problem with this idea is that in reality, when tech makes us more efficient, our bosses catch on right away, and assign us more work. Robots don't make our lives easy necessarily, sometimes they merely give us time to do more work.
Rob D (Oregon)
Two threads emerge in the replies refuting Mr. Brooks caution about tech, narrowly defined as smartphone and tablet apps. 1) Mr. Brooks caution about tech is the latest thing be warned about be it television, radio or printing press: 2) As things. tech's goodness or badness emerges not at creation or distribution but in the user's hands who are either control tech or are controlled by tech, respectively: 3) Not all tech is bad and certainly not the tech I work on. In response tech provides users with the ability to create and distribute content which makes it significantly different from television, radio and newspapers. The content control is largely an illusion but nonetheless hits the brain in a different way and needs recognition and careful thinking in tech's design and distribution.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Internet content reaches the eyes and the ears. It is everybody's media distribution system.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
With respect the three issues raised by Brooks, they are not caused by the technology but my the way people use it. Children must learn to think and to understand a lot of basic knowledge to be competent participants in the modern world and they use technology as it makes sense to them. The judgment that they lack is due to their age. Adults on the other hand are not considering what they are doing, example being texting while driving or walking on sidewalks. Tech companies are businesses who just use the technology in their business model. There is more Ronald Reagan era rejection of human activities centered about respecting any common interests in this situation that most people allow. The businesses are just trying to make money as they can. The monopolies are also a result of Reagan area rejection of the value of mixed government and private sectors involvement in economies and free market promotions of regulation free business activities. The key to making a lot of money since the mid-1800's has been to establish a monopoly in a market and competition has always meant meager profitability. Wall street loves monopolies and finds competition the road to mediocre returns in any market. Tech companies did not create this situation, our whole country did. In the 1990's the Congress passed legislation that requires Tech companies to offer customers the ability to opt out of sharing their information. In Europe the laws made business obtain permission to share it.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The pace of technology makes adulthood itself elusive. Practical electronics was all vacuum tubes when I started to play with it. The notion of 128 gigabyte thumb drives was inconceivable.
AiKi (Right Here)
It is very ironic that Mr. Brooks' article has been *electronically* distributed to all of us who are commenting on it - and to countless other readers who are not! To stay consistent, Mr. Brooks should have requested that his article only appear in the print version.
Jeff Robbins (Long Beach, New York)
Brooks' piece is right on the money, literally and figuratively. Addiction is an engine of sales and technology is the drug. Each next new version mirrors the need to keep upping the drug's purity and power to get the same kick of dopamine. There's a reason why Silicon Valley moguls send their kids to technology can wait Waldorf schools. It's okay to hook everyone else's kids but not their own. The hypocrisy second's Brooks' motion.
JoeHolland (Holland, MI)
Your best column in quite awhile, Mr. Brooks. It wasn't enough, apparently, for America to dumb down its youth with vapid school curricula and easy grading practices. No. We had to add tech devices the constant use of which are disintegrating social skills for our youth as well as millennial adults. Enough!
mark friedman (englewood, new jersey)
Brooks likes to idealize the past. But his argument was made in the last century, with the rise of radio and movies and then again with the rise of television. Young people became less social when they got those distractions. The studios and the networks learned how to make their products addictive. Should we talk about the monopolies of the air waves, supported by the government? David, give us a break!
Cone, S (Bowie, MD)
Cell phones and computers with pitchforks and horns, depressions and suicides, the world of our young disintegrating before our eyes . . . I've been in restaurants and seen couples sitting across from each other busily texting away. Silicon Valley has disrupted everyone's lives and yet we go on because this is just another challenge of today, and yes, it will get worse but we shall overcome. We just don't know in what way.
Brian Milton (Fairfax)
There's a simple solution to social media pollution: monetize it. Jared Lanier argued for this year's ago and it's easier now than it was then. Social media companies will resist like the devil but it's the only real solution to the problems that Brooks correctly identifies. BB
CWH (.)
"... monetize it." That's already being done, but you have to know where the "money" is. Apple has always sold products for money. Amazon is a retailer. Retailers make money by selling for more than they pay. Facebook offers "free" services to users in exchange for information about those users. The money comes from advertisers targeting those users. Google also offers "free" services and makes money by selling ads.
Nathan (San Marcos, Ca)
Humility? Heschel's sabbath, a "palace in time?" These are exactly what the always connected, always anxious online world destroys--intentionally. Technology and its agents have made a science of the old vices of the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. There are now algorithms to keep the fires high, to keep people clicking, seeing, clicking, seeing, desiring more seeing--in burning and luminescent 5k screens or fantastically detailed phone screens. They know how our brains work, what is likely to lead to what. Disconnecting is the only resistance--and for most of us it is only possible some of the time. We will be worshipping through our screens at least part of the time--and often against our will.
Joe (Iowa)
Tech, guns, airplanes, whatever inanimate object you choose is neither good nor evil. They just are. It's how people use them that determines their subjective moral worth.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Every artificial object was created for some intentional purpose, however fleeting it may have been.
Glenn W. (California)
Gee, was that a veiled critique of unfettered capitalism I just read? Oh no, is Mr. Brooks going soft on his mantra "greed is good"?
George Dietz (California)
Yeah, all this tech is bad, addictive. It's all tech's fault that it keeps people from intimacy, ruins dinners, causes accidents, makes people look stupid staring at their 'devices'. Scary because some parents of Brooks' generation and later allowed their children smart phones in the crib, substituted TV and games and the internet for personal time spent with their kids, and were transfixed themselves by their phones. Some people seem to think anything that shakes life as they thought they knew it is bad. Change and new things terrify those who want to believe that they are not responsible for controlling themselves and it's tech's fault they're addicted.
AiKi (Right Here)
It is very ironic that Mr. Brooks' article has been *electronically* distributed to all of us who are commenting on it - and to countless other readers who are not! To stay consistent, Mr. Brooks should have requested that his article only appear in the print version.
CWH (.)
Brooks: "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices." Brooks doesn't know anything about marketing. An elementary principle of marketing is that a product or service should always be positioned as the "best". And the companies cited by Brooks (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook) actually do provide the "best" product or service. See "Marketing For Dummies" by Jeanette McMurtry. 2017-11-21 16:31:01 UTC
Chris (Cave Junction)
You thought offshoring jobs and immigration driven by low-wage jobs was so bad you had to make America great again. Remind me how you're gonna do that when artificially intelligent robots take over almost all work as we know it? As Utah Phillips said: "They're gonna strip mine your soul."
CF (Massachusetts)
I don't waste time imagining things that won't ever happen. John Lennon wrote a catchy tune with the title, "Imagine," but the more years that go by, the more hope I've lost. Unfettered Capitalism. Greed is Good. He who dies with the most toys wins. Your net worth defines your self worth. Only morons pay estate taxes. This is America now. Mark Zuckerberg did not have to design Facebook such that every person gets a little dopamine jolt with every "like." But, he did. To get clicks. To get more users. To get more users to get more friends to get more likes and clicks. To get more money. Back in the days when there were only mainframe computers, I got plenty of jolts by writing software that made life easier for other engineers. The people who used my software got jolts when they didn't have to do drudge work anymore, the computer did it for them. It freed their brains up to do that higher-level thinking. But, all those little jolts of satisfaction involved productivity, not desperation. There's too much desperation now, too much desperation born of validation via social media. I have a Facebook page I rarely visit. When I do, I see posts going back about a day, interspersed with ads based on my browsing history outside Facebook. Then, they print a little message: "get more friends to see more posts." More friends, more clicks, more ads more posts, more clicks, more ads more.... No, thanks. It's up to us to say that. Facebook isn't going to do it.
stephen (01066)
The problem you describe is real, but much deeper than you suggest. What we need is a deep-culture analysis much like Marshall McLuhan gave us when he declared that "the medium is the message." It used to be accurate to say, "necessity is the mother of invention." It may be true now that, "invention is the mother of necessity." No matter what parents or tech giants do, the culture is increasingly ruled by the underlying ethos of a technological worldview in an overcrowded world.
Sina (NYC)
This is not a tech issue, it's a human issue. Tech already provides us with efficiency devices - it's the over consumption of these devises that is tearing away at our social fabric. If you were writing an article about McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut would you suggest they change their entire menu to salads because obesity, diabetes and heart disease are health problems? If we are concerned about our kids, lets be better parents. If we are worried about tech addiction, lets limit our use.
Ober (North Carolina)
I quit Facebook right after the election. It was a good way to keep up with distant family at first but it morphed into something else. I had strangers asking me to "friend" them (I did not), then "friends" of other people I knew well who I had "friended" starting popping into my feed. Some of them I could tell were made-up accounts, perhaps they were Russian bots, I don't know. Then there were the constant ads for things I did not want to look at and had no interest in. All this for wanting to see what was going on with my family and real! friends. I tried to limit seeing these things but Facebook made it as difficult as possible - then never followed through on my requests. So, I quit Facebook. But since Facebook is tied to everything it seems I also lost the ability to do many other things on the web. Facebook will never change until people decide to take back their lives. It and other social platforms have too much power over us, much like other addictions would. Now I email, text, and write more letters and feel more liberated every day.
CWH (.)
"But since Facebook is tied to everything it seems I also lost the ability to do many other things on the web." What "other things"?
Joe (Iowa)
What "other things"? *.xxx of course.
FunkyIrishman (member of the resistance)
If anyone comes up with a better ''widget'' , that becomes massively popular ( fad or otherwise ) , then we cannot call them; '' evil ''. Madison avenue thinks, lives and breathes 24\7 ways on manipulating all of us in how we live, think, feel and of course consume\purchase. Do we call them evil ? The republican party pulls us in ( enough gullible voters ) election after election that they are the party to govern, to run the country equitably and the ones that offer moral values. Each and every time they hypocritically change course once in power and destroy the fabric of our community. Do we call them evil ? We are all supposed to be able to think for ourselves and have responsibility for our actions ( republicans espouse this with every breath ) and that begins with our upbringing and our parents. If they fail, do we call them evil ? I occasionally take you seriously Mr. Brooks, but hardly ever when you start throwing around the hyperbole i a lazy attempt to push an agenda. Try again.
Mark Carbone (Cupertino, CA)
David lumps together Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. I believe Facebook is by far the largest perpetrator on this list of ensnaring individuals.
Ryan (Collay)
The greatest drug, Little drips of stimulation, news feeds that drive our adrenal glands to squirt out some more hits, bit of cortisol with each tweet, like a junkie we crave one more tweet...and they mine and monetize our self worth, our souls to sell us more and more. Think that’s a problem? Too late...
JustAPerson (US)
I think tech is far worse than this. David mentions than many in tech have good intentions, but exactly who is he talking about? The engineers? The executives? Certainly not the investors! No, tech is driven my money like all other business, and the current goal is to extract as much from its users as possible without regard to the well being of the users. I think this is the end game of capitalism, when the goal of making money becomes fundamentally destructive to human existence. It's here, and I don't expect any executives answering to investors to stop it. I have no idea how this ends, but I'm pretty sure the future looks a lot different than any of us can possibly imagine at this point. We have no idea what is coming. Those who are dreaming beyond the next decade are thinking way too far ahead. Our problems are more acute and immediate, but our problems cannot be solved if we're reacting to our tech devices. I've bought my last smart phone. My kids will never have one. I suspect tech is going to collapse within the next decade. Totally.
Desmo88 (LA)
There is a fourth critique of big tech that should be mentioned: FB, Google, Apple and AirbNb, etc., are horrible "corporate" citizens of every country they populate, by intentionally engaging in blatant disregard of local laws and regulations that would -- but for their cash to pay legions of lawyers -- put any other business out of business. For example: -- AirBnB disregarded and continues to disregard zoning restrictions, leasehold agreements and continually fights local governments wasting their limited resources; -- Uber disregarded regulations regarding common carriers and flaunts the law of independent contractors vs. employees to save billions of dollars; -- Google knowingly acts in violation of antitrust laws in the US and Europe as well as scores of privacy rulings; and -- Apple cleverly convinced Irish politicians and accountants that it should keep $13B in taxes owed to that country and defies the EU on its view. As if this approach of "ask for forgiveness rather than permission" wasn't brazen enough as a clear reflection of the hubris of the tech executives who plot and execute these strategies, most recently, FB didn't even bother to send an executive to testify before Congress, just lawyers. Even greedy Jamie Diamond appears before Congress but Mark Zuckerberg is to powerful and sends only minions of lawyers. Shame on tech and, someday, diligent plaintiffs' lawyers will prove product liability claims like Brooks mentions and halt this "progress."
Bill (Devon, Pa.)
Right after I write this I'm going for a walk in Valley Forge National Park. My phone will stay in the house. I'll see horizons, feel the wind and sun, and walk by cabins constructed to resemble those Revolutionary War officers and soldiers lived in over two centuries ago when high tech meant a rifle and telescope. My time there won't give me the little kick I get when I see a message from a friend, but it will nourish my psyche in a way no online activity can.
Bill Shelton (Somerville, MA)
Tech addicts are seeking fulfillment of real and profound human needs. The addictive power of what Mr. Brooks calls “tech” comes from the fact that it does provide some satisfaction, while leaving the gnawing hunger—for connection, community, insight, adventure—unfulfilled. And the isolated and unfulfilled addict, confronted with omnipresent images of their peers’ seemingly great lives, concludes that the failure must be his or hers alone. Comparing community to “online community,” for example, is like comparing a living, breathing, thinking, loving woman to a blow-up sex doll. But if the addict has no experience of genuine community nor prospects for experiencing it, s/he will cling to the ersatz as to life itself. Technology is neutral. Its appropriation should be as Mr. Brooks proposes—as efficiency devices. But that would require us to live in fundamentally different economic and political institutions. Its appropriation instead is as a means of yielding the highest possible rate of return to tech’s owners by selling their victims’ most personal information to a similarly motivated market. How could it be otherwise? Sincerely, how?
DornDiego (San Diego)
Behavior has changed. People walk around staring into their phones. A bell goes off and a conversation is interrupted. We hunt for housing and ignore looking at the neighborhoods. Who doesn't know all this?
Brian Barrett (New jersey)
Brooks fiddles while Rome burns... We have bigger problems than Facebook and Snapchat... We need to maintain focus on Trump and his many destructive actions.
Chris (Colorado)
Brooks' rant is disingenuous. He's arguing for control that is very similar to the arguments against gun control that he and his ilk spew constantly. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people". So, conversely, tech doesn't make people xyz, people make people xyz. (Substitute your phrase of choice for 'xyz'). Of course, the hypocrisy of having it both ways has never been an issue for he and his ilk.
Everything in its place. Technology is neither inherently evil nor inherently good, it simply should not be in the center of our lives. Just like how reality TV is neither inherently evil nor inherently good, it simply should not be in the White House.
HalfMoon (Nyc)
It is a fallacy that tech is not deliberately designed to be addicting. So people who try to put the focus on the dumb public who do not have the restraint to use tech responsibly are saying the same as those who say: 1. guns don't kill people, people do 2. people should know not to drink a 40oz soda 3. no one asks you smoke cigarettes 4 please drink responsibly Haptics, and likes, and swipes are are all rooted on psych research. this is not conspiracy merely the result of cognitive design. The issue we face is no one could have predicted how quickly and broadly the tech would take hold. And now that we know, obviously the time has come to try regulate it - at least a little.
RjW (Chicago)
Science and technology are, in their own right never evil. It takes a bad actor, Russia, for example, to divert their knowledge and skills to evil intent. Fearless leader, aka Boris Badanov, aka V.V. Putin is determined to bankrupt the UStreasury via defunding it. We destroyed the Soviet Union by getting them to spend themselves into oblivion to keep up with our military spending. It is quite understandable that they would want revenge, served with cold cash, to facilitate a treacherous and treasonous tax policy. Started by Grover Nordqvist et al, glommed onto by Putin, and here we are. Ready willing and able to self destruct. A simple plan really. Hold on tight!
T-Bone (Reality)
Tech isn't evil; it's stupid - more like stupefying. We have hard evidence of this in the steady decline in young people's critical thinking and critical reading skills. Even with a redesigned, easier, dumbed-down 2016 test, SAT scores are declining for all groups (Asians' scores rose slightly due to a redefinition of the group in 2016 to exclude the low-performing "Pacific ISlander" sub-group from the Asian category). This downward trend, constant since the 1980s, has been given a new push by heavy smartphones and tablet use. It's undeniable that using these devices has: - sharply reduced young people's attention spans; - blocked the development of critical reading skills; - hindered their ability to develop complex ideas and convey them with any clarity. It's even worse: we now have a generation of young teachers who themselves are illiterate and incapable of thinking critically, reading closely or writing clearly. These teachers bring to mind Squeers, the illiterate teacher in "Nicholas Nickleby." Our children are immersed in a culture of stupidity, their minds assaulted by idiotic time-wasters and their schools increasingly staffed by cohorts of incompetent teachers. Think how much better off our culture, society and civilization would have been if we had resisted the advertising-based digital technology model. Our children would still be capable of reading. We'd still have a viable independent, competent press. Our teachers might still be able to read and write.
Ralph (NSLI)
The technology isn’t evil. The industry may well be leaning that way. Many of these running the companies - not just the big, famous ones but also the invisible ones dedicated to the absorption and (mis)use of data and personal information - certainly are. They don’t necessarily realize they are. They often just think they are making huge amounts of money and are happy to use it to influence society through politics to be more the way they would like, and they self-righteously believe this must be good for everyone. Make no mistake, however, the tech and the industry which purveys it are being used in increasingly anti-social and destructive ways. Unfortunately, the only regulator would be the government constituted of equally venal people, many beholden to tech giants and their products.
JC (oregon)
Tech is wonderful! It all depends upon how you use it. I can work at home thanks to cloud data storage and sharing. I don't go to movies anymore because I now have so many choices. I can finally shop comfortably at home thanks to on-line shopping. Costco is the only store which I go religiously. I stop going to meetings because I can purchase video-on-demand. I save on hotel and travel and it is also good to environment. I read NYT and I submit comments daily. I don't use Facebook or LinkedIn. I can learn anything which I am interested just by Google it. Google map now takes me to places. Seriously, why do we need friends? I rather stay home with my dogs. They are my only true friends. Soon I will have AI friend who will always be true, honest, authentic, considerate, warm, kind, loving, loyal and genuine to me. VR will probably become how we experience things. AI robot will most likely take care of me when I become old. I see a whole new world in front of me with all the coming exciting technologies. I just don't buy your narrative.
E Hill (Reston, VA)
The title should be "How Evil is Social Media?" There, I would agree your article covers what indeed has become evil to youth, society, and the rest of your article constructs.
Justine (RI)
Not sure the internet beast can be tamed, but our society and social institutions will bear the brunt in the future. Who is most at risk? Probably rural and suburban teens. Markers of unhappiness are the tip of the iceberg, I can't wait to hear the outcome of twenty years of access to porn, gaming, etc. combined with lax marijuana laws, for example. Unless we change gun laws we can assume the next generation's massacres will not come from the Hispanic kid who has to shut his phone off to get to work.
I do love David Brooks commentary. A "conservative" with some really well thought out reasoning is such a breath of fresh air these days. Keep on keepin on DB!
Tabula Rasa (Monterey Bay)
The End of Reflection, an article written by Teddy Wayne in NYT Future Tense column. “In a world in which a phone or computer is rarely more than arm’s length away, are we eliminating introspection at times that may have formerly been conducive to it? And is the depth of that reflection compromised because we have retrained ourselves to seek out the immediate gratification of external stimuli?”
Hybrid Vigor (Butte County)
Interesting that no mention is made of the business model of much of tech: advertising, the source of all the ills he describes. Brooks, talk to Zeynep Tufekci.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money. Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with “hijacking techniques” that lure us in and create “compulsion loops.” Shades of the tobacco industry!
Richard Frauenglass (Huntington, NY)
Simply put "Social Media" is on the highest level of anti-social behavior.
Paul (San Francisco)
This article comes at a great time as I recently presented to groups of parents about teen/parent anxiety and stress. I work as a therapist, in schools, and psychiatric units. Television is not the greatest for kids but the smartphone can be quite dangerous. More teens are being psychiatrically hospitalized and the straw that breaks the camels back more often than not(girls esp) is a post, like or dislike on FB, Snap or Insta. Adolescent car deaths are down, psych hospitalizations are up. Certain parts of tech need to be regulated like cars or drugs because of safety. Parents and schools can't do this alone, its perverse. All one has to hear are the kids I work with and their addictive and isolative behaviours. If that doesn't convince, then perhaps the Russia meddling is ancillary to this and just as important. We gave them free reign and what do you expect, to monitor themselves on their own?
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
1) You don't have to buy your eighth grader a computer. Steve Jobs wouldn't let his own children use some of the technology Apple markets towards children. That should tell you something. A smart phone is a computer by the way. Personally, I never had a computer I could call my own until after I graduated high school. There was plenty of technology in the house but only in publicly shared spaces. This is really the parents' choice. We all know parents are imperfect people but you do have a choice. 2) I completely agree. However, David Brooks speaks as though he's writing from a loftier perch. Digital newspapers are guilty of the same behavior. Whether breaking news or featured comments, newspapers are adopting the addictive tactics of tech. Adults have compulsion loops too. Don't act like you're not complicit. 3) Yes but the problem is a little more nuanced. Technology enjoys market power without regulation. There's no political will to put the breaks on the tech industry. Instead, state governments are begging for the promise of their economic growth. Witness the Amazon HQ bidding war. Meanwhile you have types like David Leonhardt and others applauding the arrival of self-driving cars. No one can really unplug when we're getting force-fed technology consumption as the economy of the future. Stay tech savvy or prepare to become unemployed. Despite occasional outrage, there's really not much leverage against the tech giants in the modern economy.
J Stavros (South Bend IN)
Tech companies are the modern charlatans and snake oil salesmen that sell convenience and satisfaction to people who are unsuspecting of the algorithms that trap them into mindless behavior. Many people are willing to give up their personal information not realizing that by doing so they become the product that is monetized and sold for billions to advertisers.
John (RI)
It's naive to expect tech companies to play down what they offer people. If Apple suddenly portrays iPhones as utilitarian devices, it will lose market share to Samsung and other rivals who exaggerate the potential bliss from their phones. That's just the way of market capitalism and modern marketing. Even governments probably can't stop this. The only workable response is from consumers themselves, as we develop a culture of limitation. This is true about all sorts of temptations nowadays, from lack of exercise to tobacco use to gambling and alcohol. We've managed to develop a culture that scorns many of these bad habits, and we can do the same here too. Smartphone use has to stop being cool and become something that people are ashamed of allowing interfere with real interpersonal relations.
FunkyIrishman (member of the resistance)
If anyone comes up with a better ''widget'' , that becomes massively popular ( fad or otherwise ) , then we cannot call them; '' evil ''. Madison avenue thinks, lives and breathes 24\7 ways on manipulating all of us in how we live, think, feel and of course consume\purchase. Do we call them evil ? The republican party pulls us in ( enough gullible voters ) election after election that they are the party to govern, to run the country equitably and the ones that offer moral values. Each and every time they hypocritically change course once in power and destroy the fabric of our community. Do we call them evil ? We are all supposed to be able to think for ourselves and have responsibility for our actions ( republicans espouse this with every breath ) and that begins with our upbringing and our parents. If they fail, do we call them evil ? I occasionally take you seriously Mr. Brooks, but hardly ever when you start throwing around the hyperbole i a lazy attempt to push an agenda. Try again
D Priest (Not The USA)
Ah, another sermon from Mr Brooks. Look, everything I do on my phone or computer I used to do in the analog world, but it was way more time consuming, intricate and diffused. Technology has made it simple, that's all. For example, I used to have to go to a book store to browse magazines and books. Now I do it over morning coffee. Social media? Who didn't have a big phone book of contacts, and on and on. Get a life Savonarola.
rich williams (long island ny)
Agree, agree, agree.
Trauts (Sherbrooke )
America has brought the world a bounty of game changing technology but has squandered so much of it on lust for profit.
Ann (Los Angeles)
I dislike the tech industry because some of the richest corperations in the world, don't pay taxes. Another reason is because they wipe out professions without concern for the workers. I think they are selfish.
FunkyIrishman (member of the resistance)
If anyone comes up with a better ''widget'' , that becomes massively popular ( fad or otherwise ) , then we cannot call them; '' evil ''. Madison avenue thinks, lives and breathes 24\7 ways on manipulating all of us in how we live, think, feel and of course consume\purchase. Do we call them evil ? The republican party pulls us in ( enough gullible voters ) election after election that they are the party to govern, to run the country equitably and the ones that offer moral values. Each and every time they hypocritically change course once in power and destroy the fabric of our community. Do we call them evil ? We are all supposed to be able to think for ourselves and have responsibility for our actions ( republicans espouse this with every breath ) and that begins with our upbringing and our parents. If they fail, do we call them evil ? I occasionally take you seriously Mr. Brooks, but hardly ever when you start throwing around the hyperbole i a lazy attempt to push an agenda. Try again
bemused (ct.)
Mr. Brooks: I would say that you and a great many others are a little late to this party. Tech has usurped the old social order and has threatened it from its inception. Nice of you to state the obvious. How insane is it to text while driving? What have we done about it? I fear it is too late to reverse any of the crazy behavior that has been spawned by our electronic dependancies. Why have we so readily succumbed to this convenient rot? Money makes the world go round. That simple fact is why so many conservatives can be so progressive and accepting of new technology. A buck is a buck and a brain is a terrible thing to waste. The differance between price and cost escapes us. Listening to the likes of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg makes it clear that we are already being inundated with too much A.I..
Robertkerry (Oakland)
I worked and lived in Silicon Valley during the 80's and 90's and I can tell you that the main thing that fueled the money in the dot com boom was the gigantic amount of personal information that could be gleaned and exploited from people using web sites. The first casualty of the digital revolution was your privacy. The second was truth, so if the idea of a bot in Russia that knows all about you feeding you lies on your social network seems a good thing then congrats to you and your libertarian buds. If not then maybe its a good idea to return to putting our files in a file cabinet.
David Henry (Concord.)
Why does Brooks ignore the ugliest sin of the tech monopolies? Their collusion with the Russians to place Trump in the WH. The lust for money over country cannot be justified, and jail time for CEO's and other collaborators is the least we can provide them.
M Martinez (Miami)
We don't know yet what is going to happen with the brains of the addicts. Same happened with the tobacco industry. History says that during WWII the soldiers were "rewarded" by Lucky Strike -a totally misleading brand name- by giving them free cigarettes, in order to create a massive number of addicts. Nobody said anything about emphysema at that time. Internet addicts have emphysema brain disease? Is Snapstreak a chronic obstructive brain disease? Many thanks Sir, you made us think again. THINK was a one-word slogan created by IBM founder Thomas Watson Sr. in 1915. We should start using it again.
Steve Beck (Middlebury, VT)
You should send your kids to a camp on a lake in in the woods in Vermont in the summer that has an unconnected policy. "Last Child in the Woods" was not a novel book for a reason.
Marat In 1782 (Connecticut)
Now imagine if the founders of our country had access to cat videos.
Kevin K (Connecticut)
Irony of .com viewing aside, confirmation that the social impacts are scarier than even casual know it alls expected. Comic books, telephone, television, and the dreaded pool cue where all cited as the cause of the distraction and destruction of youth. To witness Duck Speak emerging in emoticon glory via nano second brain seduction is harrowing and quantifiable. You thought getting kids to read Moby Dick was tough before....
SKK (Cambridge, MA)
Too little, too late. Socrates already corrupted the minds of the youth in 399 BC. He was sentenced to death. It didn't help.
rj1776 (Seatte)
Read Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, in which he argued that advances in  knowledge and culture had corrupted homo sapiens.
Reuben Ryder (New York)
Is it "Tech" or is it "Capitalism" that Brooks is talking about in this rambling diatribe. What he imagines in his conclusion was the original shtick of tech. Where was this guy 30 years ago? "Save time and paper," blah, blah, blah. Capitalism is the dealer in our society. It is always offering more and better to make our life easier. Addiction follows for the users. Mr. Brooks seems to be one of them, fighting for his soul, but using tools that haven't changed since the 12th Century. For those that have to work 7 days a week, the people that Mr. Brooks would know nothing about, their avenue of escape is quite non existent. Mr. Brooks reminds me of my neighbor who planted a tree 20 years ago only to cut it down. He helped to plant the Republican Party, and now he is trying to distance himself from the world he helped to create. The tech world reflects the kind of capitalism that he pushed for years and years, and this is what results from it. He is right to question, as we should all, but he doesn't have a clue in terms of what to do in reality. He escapes in to mumbo jumbo, "a different dimension," also know as the Twilight Zone and/or delusion. He needs to confront the fact that there is no such thing as a free market, and that we need to place restrictions on some things and regulate other things, else wise this is what we get.
John Brews ✅✅ (Reno, NV)
David has ignored the major evil of “tech”, his shorthand for Google, Twitter, Facebook and the like. That is, that it is driven by profit, not social value. So top results of a Google search are not often the most pertinent or authoritative. In fact, the more penetrating article may be impossible to find without the precise title and author of the article - you have to know of its existence beforehand to find it. And so-called “news” is simply what’s trending. Click bait as they say. Attract eyeballs for advertisers. These tools are misused to manipulate our minds and behavior. Sometimes Google, Twitter, Facebook are themselves the pawns of those who understand how they work, and blinded by their own blinkered focus on clicks, become themselves the dupes of corporate bots, political machination, and fanatics. Regulation is needed to keep content accurate and in depth, to provide sources, to balance coverage, to make echo chambers rare. To change the business model and replace algorithms with judgement. People, not machines. Profits will drop, but utility will increase.
Mogwai (CT)
David is no Liberal. He is of the Right wing, you know, one of those who preaches to me to pull myself up by my britches and that companies are people and caveat emptor and all the other troll-like propaganda that our 'corpocracy' instills in our daily dose of media-mind-manipulation. Ain't no company is no different. Capitalism should be on a choke-chain. It should not be allowed to run wild as America does. Maybe Germany, the Nordic countries, New Zealand and Canada could have better ideas. Those more closely resemble the chains put on capitalists because society allows them such extravagant profiteering off we the people. Society has accepted profiteering as allowance for employment, but ain't no jobs being created. Ain't no Americans smart enough to fill them if there were. The ignorant word 'skill' is the most ridiculous word there is. 'Living' is skill. Corporations want robots that just do the work and don't open their mouths, and tech ain't no different. Therefore, dumb people equals corporate nirvana.
DK in VT (New England)
An exceptionally ill-informed piece. There are many, many, dangers emanating from the tech world but increased app addiction is far the top of the list. The threat of tech lies in ubiquitous data collection. Google knows what you did last summer... and spring, and fall. and winter too. Facebook knows where you are, where you were, and probably where you are going to be. Amazon knows your shoe size, waist size, your taste in fiction and prose. Privacy is dead and the Chinese have your social security number, driver's license, bank accounts and fingerprints. The Russian mob has all your credit card numbers. North Korea appears to have of these and more. We haven't even covered what the NSA might be up to. Just imagine how quickly the nation could be brought to its knees by the malicious application of this data in the wrong hands (corporate, nation state, or organized crime). This is a question of when, not if.
northcoastcat (cleveland)
The Internet is a good tool, but a poor lifestyle.
Andrea Landry (Lynn, MA)
Their motivation is money which equates to power which in turn equates to control of the Internet for profit alone. The welfare of their users is not a thought in their corporate heads. Just ask FB or Twitter or even Google. Neither FB nor Twitter want to hold themselves accountable for the hate propaganda and fake news that is spread by Putin and our own domestic cyber terrorists. I just read today's NYT article about net neutrality rules being taken away which will give these people more control and even bigger profits in an industry reported to be in the trillions. Who suffers? We do, of course, the little guy who is always being manipulated and used. I was in IT for 20 years so I am no technophobe but when FB was introduced I immediately thought the premise to be stupid and psychologically damaging. Zuckerberg seemed to me to be an introvert afraid of actual people relationships and this was his answer for his own social handicaps. Many initial FB users would brag to me about a 1000 or more 'friends' who were faceless and not part of their physical world. These 'friends' could be anybody with sinister intent or just a bunch of jerks lying about themselves. A dangerous cyber fantasy world where you can be easily duped and manipulated. A form of mind control. A Pandora's box. Yes it has become an addiction, and I check e-mail and text messages too often myself. They have become a form of affirmation but at least these people are real members of my world.
Name (Here)
Who knew you could build a straw man from the latest social media technology. Thanks, brooks.
SHJ (Providence RI)
Come on guys--David got it right this time. He's a republican, and they are ruining the country (and the world?), but he got it right this time.
Ron Bartlett (Cape Cod)
Thank you David, for renewing a perennially relevant issue. I especially like your quote of Rabbi Heschel, hough I have not read Heschel. It reminded me of the song, Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell, c 1970? Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you’ve got till it’s gone Paved paradise, put up a parking lot With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
V1122 (USA)
"Ignorance is bliss." "Keep em dumb and down on the farm." I think access to information allows one to see the world for what it really is and the world is not always as pretty or honest as we were taught. We live in "Post Truth America" where social contract after social contract has been broken. Being aware of this can make one miserable. That's all this technology has done, allowed one to follow their instincts and seek answers.
Graham Ashton (massachussetts)
David you talk about addiction and never mention the biggest addiction of all and the worst creator of profound difference and separation - and one you are subject to yourself. Religion! We have it on show now in Alabama where the popularity of Roy Moore is because of the religious addiction of his followers. Religion inures its victim to the suffering of others and immunizes its victims from self-analysis.
Ramesh G (California)
social media has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses. Doesnt help that the even the postscript to this NYT OpEd asks to 'Follow us on Facebook and Twitter' - NO! - just go to the source , dont get on facebook!
Patrick Mallek (Boulder CO)
Seriously, if you have to use technology to regulate your own use of technology, you ARE the problem. Admit it and get help.
Vincent Amato (Jackson Heights, NY)
Two images stand out for me. The first can be seen on any random trip on the subway. Seemingly every single person seated in the subway car is head down immersed in a phone connected by ear plug wires or is thumb texting another user. The second hearkens back to the Pope's visit to New York. Rather than looking at the visiting pontiff directly, hundreds of what used to be called onlookers (now on-viewers?) had their arms extended (often assisted by some pole-like device) to both see and immortalize the moment(s). This is just the public face of these technologies, of what are called "smart" devices. And money is no object, users often spending near a thousand dollars for their phones along with hefty subscription fees. The technology has become an almost universally applied interlocutor between the individual and the outside world. Direct human contact becomes more and more rare. By now, we all know that the medium is the message. It is amazing how prescient the dystopian writers of the thirties were; they saw what was coming in our Brave New World (order). Shall we blame the technology? Shall we blame the enterprising entrepreneurs and their astuteness in seducing consumers? Is Apple evil because it is now the richest corporation in the world? Meanwhile, out of the public eye, in the privacy of their homes, millions more stay on-line (Often glued to porn sites. One fears to imagine how the lives of adolescents have been harmed by the internet.)
craig80st (Columbus,Ohio)
"Online is a place for information and not reflection." Online with the NYT is a place to read David Brooks for information and then reflection, a written response, a reflective thought.
SusanS (Reston, Va)
" Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology." Humility is a disrup tech? Something got edited wrong...Heschel has been misunderstood...AJH would NEVER have said or implied that !
Old Man Willow (Withywindle)
The black monolith has been replaced by the cell phone. What will our species be like in a million years, if we survive? From the trees to the savanna to ........
Leslied (Virginia)
"The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money." "The third critique is that Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are near monopolies that use their market power to invade the private lives of their users and impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors. Well, duh. It's the capitalism, stupid, to paraphrase the Bill Clinton campaign.
Blue Moon (Old Pueblo)
"Online is a place for information but not reflection." So why do you write philosophical, reflective op-ed pieces online in the NYT? Is it because you profit by doing so? Mr. Brooks, I hope you are simply confused. Recall that Bill Gates cautions youngsters to delouse their own closets prior to filing any complaints. Today, both generically and in this column, the medium is the message.
Bruce1253 (San Diego)
David, This 'Addiction' is entirely self inflicted. There is this thing called personal responsibility. It means you are responsible for the choices you make and get to enjoy the results, or suffer the consequences of your decisions. Notice that "you" appears several times in that statement, as in it is not the government's or anyone else's job to protect you from your own decisions. If you make good decisions there is personal satisfaction and perhaps fame and fortune. If you make decisions that are bad enough, there are the Darwin Awards.
MrC (Nc)
Typical column from a GOP supporter. Anything you don't like has to be evil, or an enemy - rather than "not my taste - but you go ahead" I think there is a confusion here between tech and social media. Social media is taking over the brains of our youth - tech is the enabler. But lest be real - it is not wikipedia, or expedia, or etrade, or any of these such platforms, it is facebook, snapchat, instagram etc, which have no other function than to enable the youth and feebleminded to be in endless contact to share the latest best pictures of kittens and kardashians. Booking a flight, using gps, finding a decent local restaurant is not the problem. The problem is minless gossip and porn surfing. I often wonder how effective the advertising on facebook etc. is. Most people I see who are addicted clearly have little if any disposable income.
John Kelly (Towson, MD)
As there is money to be made, I doubt that the trend can be reversed; maybe the tech industry will make modifications, but users need to modify their values and exercise some self control. Yeah, right!
Charles Packer (Washington, D.C.)
This debate is just a continuation of one that's been going on since around 1960, when the addictive aspects of television became evident. Democracies have rightfully allowed private industry to be the engine of innovation of new technologies. But they've been slow to accept when it's necessary for government to step in and regulate capitalism's excesses. Part of the that problem is the perceived intrusiveness regulation, which by default, tends to be suppression of some kind or other. It's time to advance the notion that regulation can be positive and creative. Maybe Mr. Brooks could be induced to write a piece addressing that very notion.
Leslied (Virginia)
Don't hold your breath.
dlaw (Seattle)
I live in Seattle, where we owe our whole existence to high-tech, whether Boeing, Microsoft or Amazon. My friend who has worked his entire adult life at computer and software companies works in the Xbox division at Microsoft. His home is literally littered with free devices sent to him to evaluate. He won't let his daughter use ANY of them, although, again, their whole life depends on understanding this world. "I just thing she has to learn to LIVE her life." I completely agree with him. I ask him if the great Microsoft will allow its Xbox division - which depends completely on young people - to think about our kindergarteners and their inevitably digital world and things like education, fitness and even healthy socializing into their games he says "we've found there's just no money in it." There, I completely DISagree with him. Tech companies have to look at their own children and take responsibility for the digital world they will inherit. The smartest people in the world can't just leave our children's future to chance.
Cornflower Rhys (Washington, DC)
We aren't leaving our children's future to chance. We are leaving it to the tender mercies of Apple, Google and Facebook.
Orthoducks (Sacramento)
David Brooks's column is thoughtful and constructive as usual, but one thing bothers me: he says he is writing about "tech" when he is actually writing about social media. What about all of the other things that "tech" does? What about applications that diagnose and cure disease, make cheaper and better products, help disabled people navigate the world? There is a universe out there of benefits -- and problems -- that we are being encouraged to ignore.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Computers are key to the mathematical modeling used to tune every detail of a design, and to predict weather, climate, extract and display geophysical structures, etc. They open doors to entirely synthetic materials with properties not found in nature, like negative refractive indices. There is plenty for sorcerer's apprentices to initiate before they know how to turn it off.
Doug Wendt (Montana)
Yet another piece without reference to applying the 4th Amendment or Anti-trust Laws to get us out of this overwhelming mess that's proven just how essential these protections are. This cul-de-sac also illustrates and amplifies the runaway disingenuous campaigns common in advertising since the Federal Trade Commission was put out to pasture in the early 1970s. No referees, no democracy, no integrity.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The US simply refuses to treat the communication backbone of the internet as a public utility.
rbitset (Chicago, IL)
The problem is not "tech", it is a reliance on advertising to pay for communication services. What would Facebook look like if it were a subscription service focused on the needs of customers instead of pushing product? For that matter. what would TV or the NY Times look like? Or conversely, what would smart phones look like if they didn't really on usage fees?
Charles Zigmund (Somers, NY)
The purpose of tech is to make money, the old capitalist purpose from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The only real problems Google and Facebook have are to find new ways to make money and support their stock prices in the face of saturated markets. Thus the internet-connected home and all the scant benefits and real problems it will being. The automobile brought a lot of benefits, but it also brought a lot of global warming, which may do us in. Every capitalist innovation brings benefits and problems. It is the job of legislatures to ameliorate or restrain some of the problems. But the idea that we can plan or change the future is absurd. Instead, humanity and the planet are dragged along, basically uncontrolled by anything except profit, in the wake of the innovations.
Cornflower Rhys (Washington, DC)
There is plenty we can do if we have the will and create a government that will do it.
Green (Cambridge, MA)
Through tech's dominance in our lives, how we live has evolved to a prosaic manifestation of what makes us human. We project images rather than feelings, quibbles rather than discussions. What makes us complex and magical has dumbed down to specious virtual experiences manifesting and interrupting every fragment of our lives. I should have known. When I ceased to talk with friends without anchoring conversations on Youtube videos, if I mostly know my friends based their awesome vacations and pithy 'OMG' 'brb' and other nondescript comments, it is a reminder of how fake I have become. We have allowed what is a tool to become the centerpiece of our lived experience. We took our power-drill and dubiously made it into what connects, what relates, what feels, how we work, what we purchase, and how we are active (Pokemon anyone)? For every nail, there is a hammer. For everyone life question, there is an app (or Corporation). I am glad we are having this conversation earlier than later. Striking a balance for monolith companies is difficult. Would Facebook and Amazon budge on ‘hands off my life’ as Exxon would embrace electric vehicles? What skin in the game do they have in social change? What is the real value proposition for change for these companies? We need to have these conversations now before we become truly the ‘Brave New World’.
Veronica (New Jersey)
Technology is not evil. Technology is wonderful and has changed our lives in many positive ways. I love google! An encyclopedia at my fingertips is something I never envisioned as a kid. Social media has reconnected me to friends from the past. I don't spend a lot of time on FB, but I check in every few days. Honestly, after 5 min I get bored! And what about online shopping?? There is nothing like Amazon Prime. The problem is not technology, it is how we use it. What happened to self-discipline? For those who do not want social interaction, then stay on your phones 24/7, but for those of us who enjoy co mingling with other humans, you simply have to put down your phones!
Dan Wolf (Denver, CO)
All true - though whether witting or unwitting on the part of the perpetrators I leave to better minds than mine to determine. Yet you leave out perhaps the biggest evil that Big Tech has done to us, David: Decreased physical activity levels resulting in increased maladies of the sedentary. From a social cost perspective, that's got to rank right up there, don't you think?
Red Ree (San Francisco CA)
I agree with the 3 main critiques, although Mr. Brooks wrote a book 10 years ago celebrating the new flat world of tech! A rising tide that would lift all boats, or something to that effect.
Scott (New York)
Thank you for this column. I am horrified by what technology has done to people. They simply aren't interesting or rewarding anymore--all they have to talk about is what they watch on TV and saw on Facebook or Instagram. They can't pay attention anymore, which means friendships and support are increasingly rare. The quick analysis of headlines over actual news and the need to comment, regardless of whether one has anything to say, are completely distorting our social issues. And it's horrifying that people have simply handed over their brains without question. It's horrifying to see one's friends posting something mortifying or desperately seeking the attention of strangers. Yes we can buy shoes in our underwear now, but it's ruining what used to be a main pleasure of life; other people.
Cornflower Rhys (Washington, DC)
Looks as though in the not too distant future, people will work at home in front of their computers. They can order their groceries and pjs on line. They won't need clothes if they're working at home. They might have to visit a doctor or dentist once in a while, although the doc will mostly be able to monitor his or her patient electronically. All of our entertainment can be streamed online. Sounds like a lovely, lonely life.
Stan Blazyk (Galveston)
Just read Jacques Ellul's "The Technological Society" written in 1954 for a meaningful study of the problems he foresaw for today's society.
Brad (NYC)
I have 3 teenagers and we fight with them constantly to get off their phones. I do believe the intermittent response, like gambling, has a highly addictive quality to it. The youngest generation are having their brains rewired and we all know it.
tbs (detroit)
David I thought you were a capitalist? How can you be critical of capitalism functioning at peak performance? Tech is just some capitalists that found a new way to make money. That's their motivation! Ain't capitalism grand!
Richard Frauenglass (Huntington, NY)
And on another level when college students can not add 3 and 5 without a calculator, something is very, very wrong.
Leslied (Virginia)
Yeah, they should use their fingers like I did.
Richard Frauenglass (Huntington, NY)
Can't resist. And when you got past 10 did you take your shoes off? Then you could get to 100 10 fingers x ten toes = 100.
John D (Brooklyn)
Tech, by itself, cannot be evil. It does not (yet; hello, HAL 9000) have the capacity for purposeful duplicity. It can be turned into an evil, of course, by the humans who develop and use it. An overly simple response to the first critique is to blame the users and chastise them for not having the self discipline to put their gadgets down or the self awareness to realize virtual connections are not the same as real connections. This argument is damaged by the second critique, which points out the nefarious ways the tech industry gets consumers to buy and then use, use, use their products. They can try to explain this away by saying it's what they 'have' to do to compete, stay in business and make profits, but these arguments don't cut it at a time when we want more socially responsible actions from business. The third critique feeds and is fed by the second critique; tech companies love market power because it helps them sell their wares. They'll do whatever it takes to stay big. We could hope that the executives leading these giants stop paying lip service to the social (and political) dangers caused by how their products are used and actively encourage their 'safe' use, but that's a fool's hope. But a better approach could be to have more and more consumers to just say 'no' and start treating tech as a tool and not a way of life.
Stan Carlisle (Nightmare Alley)
I knew a woman with cystic fibrosis who spent most of her waking hours online. I could understand that. What boggles my mind is the healthy teenager that spends most of his or her waking hours on Facebook or other 'social' media interacting with so-called friends they will never meet in person. As our Tweeter-in-Chief would say: Sad.
manfred m (Bolivia)
Yes, digital technology has become a disrupter in our lives, a potentially liberating and mind-enriching mechanism to communicate, to hopefully improve our lot if used cautiously. A show of Humility by the masters of the digital universe is of course the aim that may save them from our distrust. But, I prefer for them to us Prudence, which consists in doing the right thing however difficult, hazardous and 'greed-averse'. The more power one attains the more responsibility there is to be responsible about it. And converting us into addicted zombies of tech is not one of them.
Coastal Existentialist.... (Maine)
I use “tech” a lot across the day but I also live alone in the woods with a cat, so hopefully I use it more as a tool than anything else. For instance like a lot of men I absolutely despise going into a brick and mortar store for anything—my one exception is the liquor store. So thankfully there is Amazon Prime. I dislike talking on the phone, but my phone is never far out of my reach, and if you feel the need to reach me well, text me. FB keeps me in touch with many friends as well as having given me many more that while I’ve never met them I’m sure we’d be good friends via that more traditional venue of actually speaking with someone face to face. I like that “tech” has given me the tools to walk away from situations that otherwise would appear, and very likely, are rude. Don’t like where something is going: ooops, sorry my internet crashed. Living in the woods that’s not an uncommon event. I’m also not young—73—so I like to think I’m ok with my solitude. I write a lot, listen to music, take some pretty good photos, go visit untold numbers of doctors, and in the summer assuming I’m still afloat, I volunteer as a tour guide/docent at a ship building museum and travel to places even more remote than where I am currently. I imagine without technology I be thought of as a hermit. Albeit a pretty contented hermit.
Tomas O'Connor (The Diaspora)
I am reminded of a story told by Robert Wolff of the indigenous Malays in his book, "Innocence Lost". A man in one of their villages had invented a contraption with mortar and pestle powered by pulleys and levers that could husk enough rice to feed his village for a day in just a few minutes, while it normally took 2 hours for several women working manually to produce the same amount. The contraption was used one time and became an object of curiosity and even admiration for its creative nature, much the same as a work of art. Wolff asked the women why they wouldn't use such an efficient labor-saving device that would eliminate this daily drudgery of husking rice by hand. The women laughed at such a strange question. They explained that the husking of rice was fun because they would sing and dance together to the rhythmic pounding of the rice. They did not think of it as work. Convenience sometimes works against community.
pjc (Cleveland)
Well, let's see. Did television manage to stop its harmful effects? During its heyday, did it try to stop people from using it as a babysitter, or as something that was turned on when one came home from work and turn off as one fell asleep? Tech has no conscience, even if the people who create and maintain it do. But you cannot stop tech from occupying every niche of our lives it can fill. It is the nature of technology to be unstoppable, especially once it proves profitable to invest in it. And despite moral pleading, those who succeed in tech will be those who are the most ruthless in pushing it in our lives. Sure, there will be outliers, among citizens and companies. But tech always takes whatever it can. Tech is a business, not a philanthropy.
Richard Phelps (Flagstaff, AZ)
Mr. Brooks, there are no columnists I read that I respect more than you for your ability to discern reality among the quagmire of news that permeates society these days. But this time I think you have it wrong. I see no problem with what the Tech companies are doing whatsoever. The problem lies with the human incapacity to absorb, reflect, and alter behavior in such a short span of time. Perhaps the "faults" of the tech companies are real - people spending too much time with their fancy, new tech devises than spending it doing more "constructive" things with there friends. But I don't see any of this as a problem for the tech companies. Our society is changing and it will take time for everything and everyone to adjust.
sdw (Cleveland)
There ought to be some middle ground between the anti-social behavior of tech moguls which is necessary to generate astronomical profits for them and a behavior which is more socially responsible, although it reduces the profits merely to a sky-high level. In other words, the greed of people controlling Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon and other empires of the digital age must be susceptible to some tiny abatement. We would not need to ponder this issue, if we had a U.S. Congress controlled by decent men and women with an ounce of courage.
Happy retiree (NJ)
"Obviously, the smart play would be for the tech industry to get out in front and clean up its own pollution." While this column is specifically about the tech industry, the general underlying point applies anywhere. Just remove the word "tech" and substitute the name of any other industry or business, and the sentence remains just as true. And just as likely to ever happen. (i.e., never). And there in a nutshell is the absolutely unavoidable problem with unrestrained, laissez-faire capitalism. Also known as the "tragedy of the commons". Even if every single executive of every single company in a given industry can realize that the country would be better off if their industry would "clean up its own pollution", their next step is to look at each other and say, "OK, you first". Any company that gets out ahead of its competitors in being responsible is limiting its own profitability, and will soon find those competitors taking advantage. The only "central truth" that those executives know or care about is that if they don't go where the maximum profits are, they will soon be replaced.
JJ (Brooklyn)
Critique 1: parents will have to choose how much tech their kids have access to, given the obvious problems associated with screen time. Critique 2: regulation Critique 3: regulation David: do you truly think corporations would ever exhibit humility? They are not human beings (notwithstanding the generous legal fictions endowed to them by the courts). Humility is the antithesis of corporate interest.
Sunil Veluvali (San Jose)
I use the same technology being castigated to organize, educate, and inform. Social media is much more effective than television or radio and can you imagine a world where it is regulated?! That would be a giveaway to the traditional media industry where local media only tries to hook viewers through macabre stories, national media produces excess and concentrates power amongst a few, and talk radio that spreads hate. I trust the named companies to fix their problems now that they recognize it. They are not out to "just make money" as implied.
Dan (All Over The U.S.)
When was the last time you ever saw children organizing their own baseball game? When was the last time you saw a neighborhood of children build their own clubhouse? Been into a hobby shop recently? They sell to adults, not to children. Children don't build models, build model airplanes that fly, build train sets, etc. Instead, children now stare at screens. And their parents might notice this if they weren't also staring at screens.
JSK (Crozet)
Some of this begins to sound like Conrad Gessner's mid-16th century indictment of the printing press: . From that Slate essay: "Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label." Maybe we are going through something different, but we should beware of the dangers of "presentism": . Our social media have contributed to our modern political tribalism, to the ability to "go viral," to ideas of "alternate facts." But are we really in a different time, are the concerns so dissimilar from the past? I have my doubts.
Quoth The Raven (Michigan)
I wonder why Mr. Brooks didn't mention advances in automatic weapons, declare as evil those who say that such technology is protected by the Sec and Amendment to the Constitution, and argue that the manufacturers who sell them are bad seeds. If one looks hard enough, it's possible to find a downside to almost anything. This is an old, recycled debate; nothing new here, including the continued march forward of technology and perhaps a few rotten apples that can be found in just about every bushel. If neo-Luddites ruled the day, we'd still be walking five miles each way to the general store in the dead of winter, cooking in wood stoves while asphyxiating ourselves, and washing our dishes by hand. And, oh yes, we wouldn't have many of the life-saving medical breakthroughs that we now have. Now, Mr. Brooks, how 'bout them thar automatic weapons?
toby (PA)
Facebook, for example is pernicious. For example, I am constantly bombarded by messages telling me that people I have never heard of want to be my friends or messages telling me that a person I do know is sending me a message, only to find upon opening Facebook that no message exists. Or Linkin which sends me a message telling me that a friend or colleague of mine wants to link up only to find, upon contacting the friend directly, that he had no such wish. These social media intrude in people's lives with falsehoods and much noise.
SLBvt (Vt)
It is easy to conflate "tech" and "social media."--Though of course social media wouldn't exist without new technology. Tech has changed the way we work, and how we function --for good and bad. But social media is like an addictive medication. When first "discovered" both new technology and social media promoters promised "cures" for whatever ails you--more convenience! better communication!--and they never put effort into potential "side effects" or what long-term use might cause. Like drug pushers, the tech world likes to infiltrate and make necessary their products, then deflect responsibility by blaming the consumer for "voluntarily" using them. Yes, no one is forcing you to use it, but in today's world it is no longer "voluntary." So the onus, if they want to survive, is on the tech world to stop being so arrogant (and juvenile) and recognize they have responsibilities. They, like the gun industry, like to defend their inaction on the Constitution--"if we are forced to regulate, what about people's "right" to "Free Speech?" Well, that is bogus defense. No one is suggesting people can't express themselves. But there is no "right" to express yourself on every platform, anywhere. Facebook (and others of their ilk) is not as critical to people's lives as they like to believe they are. Convenient and nice to have--often. Necessary, no.
KB (Texas)
Human fulfillment in life comes from human experiences - experiences are a series of actions and emotional responses threaded by the string of human consciousness. How technology can enhance this experiences - by making actions efficient or by manipulating human hormone or both. Currently Big Tech companies are doing exactly that for their business objective - their optimization problem is to maximize revenue not maximize the human fulfillment. This is the dilema of capitalism and we can address this problem with regulation. Today there is no measure of human fulfillment and as a result this is one area that is left to genuine Gurus and Preachers. Intelligent people are flocking to those Gurus and Preachers for the cure and restricting the use of tech products in their life and in their family. Western liberal society never valued the roles of these Gurus and Preachers in the human upliftment - there measure of upliftment is GDP, Income, mortality rate, .... .Human fulfillment can never be measured by those parameters only, it has much more than material well being. Science is trying to understand this and thus holistic medicine and other areas are emerging to look beyond the gross material dimension. Only 5% of universe is gross material that we know, 95% of universe is dark matter and dark energy that we do not know. Let us accept this and define new capitalism that is in line with our new understanding of material world.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for these wise observations, yours and Rabbi Heschel's. Just what I need today - a meaty discussion to disrupt my Thanksgiving preparations. And I can't put it off because the thread will close later today; I don't know when.
Lake Woebegoner (MN)
Pogo, an old comic strip character, said it best: "We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us." Tools are not evil. The Users and abusers of the tools are. Tech, well-used, helps learners learn, and the learned can more readily share their wisdom and prudence. There's still hope to be victors. It lies with us.
Robert Selover (Littleton, CO)
Evil? Used again as though we have no control over it, or can do nothing about it.? I have objected in the past to the use of the term "evil" as an excuse to do nothing, when applied to terrorism from either foreign or domestic sources. With political will, we can find solutions to the "evil" of terrorism that reduce it's use and impact, but we hesitate and resign ourselves to it's inevitability, largely so as to not offend the NRA. Again I object to the use of the term "evil" , as we as individuals have complete control over how much time we spend on our phones. Those who preach personal accountability but assign blame elsewhere, should have no place in public discourse.
zipsprite (Marietta)
>>" and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology."<< And also the rarest of the rare, I would add.
Bill Turner (Halifax, Nova Scotia )
I always read David Brooks but I can only afford to do so from my smart phone. Any device/technology can be misused or abused. Time has to be budgeted.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The value of the new technologies are in the versatility of communicating most ways in which people exchange information in one media operating with electro-magnetic energy. The internet is a communications media. Language was the first communications media. Writing was and is another. Printing was and is another. All transformed the way that people have interacted and how they have communicated. Throughout the life of man communications have enabled people to work together to accomplish great and important things, to exchange experiences and the products of their imaginations, to share thoughts, to gossip, to misrepresent, to convey foolishness, and it all relies upon peoples' mind to exist. The quality of the communications depends upon the users, not the media. if people use the media for distraction and fail to learn the skills needed to think and to calculate and to plan and to accomplish useful things, it is they who are to blame. If businesses lure them into inane behaviors to take their money, it is because they have become complacent about what is being done. Communications are always a two way process with consent by both.
dressmaker (USA)
Alas, most of those "great and important things" have wreaked destruction on the natural world. Most are neither "great" nor "important" except in the money-making mode.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
dressmaker, Communications is how we exchange all kinds of information between each other. It is how we are able to accomplish things together and have throughout human history. The businesses which seek to make money off of communications on electronic media can do so because we need to communicate.
Dave (Yucatan, Mexico)
I pretty much agree with everything in this article when it comes to the thoroughly addictive, smartphone-based social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snap chat. (I remind people when appropriate that they are NOT the customer, they are the product being sold.) But these companies are not the total of "online," and they certainly are not the total of "tech." There a whole lot of people out there working on an infinite variety of technology products and services. These are by no means all "good" or "evil," but they are certainly far more diverse than just social media.
GAM (Denton, MD)
I would suggest that the destructive aspects of social media, and online access in general, lie not in what they offer, but in how they are offered ...i.e.: "for free." None of the addiction loops, shallowing trends, and distraction chains that Mr. Brooks mentions can work unless we are "free" to move from one page to the next without consequence, without a sense that we are "spending" something tangible, of our own, for each bite of access. Even the smallest of fees for each page we click to, each text or twitter contact we make, would bring the miracle of the internet back into the reality of daily life and consequence. Of course, nothing is free, and our illusion of - addiction to - free content is enabled by the absurdity of advertising, which only adds to the distracting, diluting, and addicting nature of the online experience. I think we are ready for a separation of content and advertising. Let us pay directly for our all of informational, communications, and entertainment content (including advertisements) and we will rediscover the personal responsibility, discipline, time, mental space, and emotional satisfaction that comes with paying our own way through life.
Marcia Freedman (California)
Brooks wrote: "Their technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive." I begin with this quote because I have experienced this over the past couple of years since the digital NY Times crossword puzzles are "played" and offer opportunities to check and correct entries. Crossword puzzles were meant to be solved, not played. And many times solutions come from the deeper places of consciousness in the brain, those magical places that "know" the answer and "reveal" the answer to the conscious brain. I have tried hard to resist the temptation of checking answers, but have to admit, for the most part, I have failed, and sadly crossword puzzling has become a game I play for pleasure, rather than a challenge for my brain to solve. One more point; I've become more impatient if I don't receive the immediate reward.
Betsy S (Upstate NY)
What if the problems that come from "tech" reflect the problem of assuming that people know what's best for them and make rational decisions about that? That belief leads to the conviction that an aggregate of individual decisions create good public policies. Who should make the decisions about what constitutes good public policy? That is not just an economic question, but involves realizing that some policies are good for more people. If I decide that I like the tax proposals because they will be "good" for me, should not someone point out that there are a lot of consequences to what I see as being to my advantage? That ability to assess complexity is missing from our contemporary society. Maybe it always was missing, but the consequences have become intolerable. David Brooks makes a lot of judgments about what is "good." He may be correct, but I suspect his conclusions are a lot more subjective than he admits. Just warning about negative consequences to technology will change absolutely nothing.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Very few Americans understand what "complexity" means mathematically. Many people see politics as only a one-dimensional polarity between "liberal" and "conservative", not a superposition of viewpoints on a multiplicity of issues.
sherm (lee ny)
"Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices." I agree with Mr Brooks wholeheartedly. Small "but". When I think of tech, I think of an industry providing efficiency devices. Tech is the haven of the geniuses and smarts that figure out how to thread a rope through a needle. The uses of these devices to make money however which way, good, bad, and predatory, is just capitalism. Thankfully a lot of very good net content is there for the taking, thanks to egalitarianism. I think a major problem with modern tech is that it's applications progressively make the world more abstract to the common user. We get acclimated to convenience being a necessity, and inconvenience unacceptable. And in many cases the new convenience is much less understood than what it replaces. For example, up to about 25 years ago if you have to find your way in a car, you got out a paper map. Now many of us rely on GPS instead, but few of us have (or need) any understanding of the mammoth technical structure, and science that gives us directions. And the GPS example is petty when compared to reliable driverless cars.
Marion Eagen (Clarks Green, PA)
May I sing the praises of tech? I love having Google, that encyclopedia in my pocket. I love Facebook, that platform that has put me back in touch with high school and college friends, keeps me current with family members I would never see at all or only at weddings and funerals, and allows me to share in the the comings and goings of my friends and neighbors, bringing us closer together than time and circumstance would ordinarily allow. I love Amazon, which buys me the gift of time. No more spending a whole afternoon going from store to store looking for that item, which I may never find. Order it online. Tomorrow or the next day, it is on my doorstep. Both Twitter and Facebook have enlarged the number of news outlets I am able to peruse, making me a better informed person. Of course we must be judicious in the ways in which we use these platforms. We must guard against addictive behavior, be careful about what personal information we share, and use critical thinking when choosing what and whom to follow, but over all, these innovations have been a much appreciated step forward in the lives of those of us who use them wisely.
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. [Steve] Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
Lanny Arvan (Champaign, Illinois)
Before retiring I was a learning technologist at the University of Illinois. What Brooks is arguing here, I argued more than ten years ago in a piece called Learning Technology and the "Vision Thing." In that piece I likened the technology to an umpire in a major league baseball game. The umpire plays a critical role, but fans don't notice the umpire till he makes a bad call. We seem to be noticing the technology itself too much as of late. But I wonder if some of the burden for this should fall on the ad companies. Their marketing now seems a way of life - a very unhealthy one. And it is 99% or more of them pushing stuff at us, rather than us pulling information we want from them. How can tech reform when that way of life prevails?
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Now the flight of the ball through or around the strike zone is displayed to TV viewers in real time. Umpires cannot attain the objectivity of sensors, and teeter on irrelevance.
Chin Wu (Lambertville, NJ)
Thought provoking subject, Dave. Rousseau and Voltaire, whose ideas led to the American revolution, struggled with the problem of tech and concluded that it contributed to the moral degradation and lower quality of life at their time - more than 2 centuries ago. As with the discovery of atoms, it can be use for good or to kill millions in a split second. Internet is a powerful tech, we are watching the rapid degradation of mankind by our smart phones invented but a few years go.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
"Tech" in this context is nothing more than the latest twist in communications systems, supplanting earlier methods going all the way back to smoke signals, flags, and semaphores.
historyprof (Brooklyn, NY)
Any good teacher can tell you the downsides of tech obsession. Yet many schools have drunk the kool aid and have aided the tech companies in helping children go down the rabbit hole by insisting that children be attached to screen devices for many, if not most, of their lessons. Those of us who have gone device free are seen as eccentric, throwbacks, old fashioned -- not so much by our students but by our institutions. In my classes where I ask students to put away their phones and laptops, to read from paper and to use pen/pencil for their notes, the mood is better, the attention is higher as is the level of sociability. I'm not anti-tech. I love these machines and the information they can reveal to us, but we don't need them to live and learn. Only when we show children how to disengage, how to connect in face to face discussion, how to put machines away will we be helping them reclaim their humanity. There are many many excellent teachers doing this -- teaching children how to contextualize technology so that they are not controlled by it but are instead its master. We need to be supported in our efforts.
Marie (Boston)
When I was a teenager the story published in a collection of short stories was already old, but still beyond what we knew. Over time I forgot the author. I forgot the title, but I never forgot the story and Its impact has stayed with me through all the years since. Through the years at college, the years at DEC, the years of tech. And I found it again so that those who have not read the story from 1909 by E.M. Forster "The Machine Stops" may learn of it and a dystopian future of instant virtual communication and living that was envisioned before the television was invented and telephones were just catching on. It seems apropos here.
Nancy Parker (Englewood, FL)
Technology. The very word conjures up feelings - positive and negative. I fought having a cell phone for a long time, until I had a job that had me on the road very early and very late, and I loved the security my phone gave me. I still use a flip phone - all I want it to do is make calls, get calls and save messages. To me, that's what a phone is for. I have a computer at home to surf the web, Google, and get e-mail. I don't have a Facebook page, am not sure what Instagram is, and don't Tweet. I'm not so conceited to think my every move and meal is interesting to anyone else, that a deluge of photos of me is welcome, and I'm not much interested in theirs. My friends and I delight in writing letters to each other filled with news and thoughts and questions, with real, selected photos enclosed - a delight to receive and completely hack proof. Private. A person is free to use "technology" or not, to choose how and where and why they use it, to keep a sense of proportion, even in the midst of the onslaught of pressure to conform. That's what being a responsible and mature person is all about. Not being gullible or manipulated. As to the kids? I taught high school for a few years and saw the problem first hand. Kids unable to go a full class period without using their devices - even when there were consequences for it. "Couples" holding hands with one hand, and both on their phones with the other. Cafeterias strangely quiet. I worry.
Ira Lacher (Des Moines)
Tech did not cause teen angst. social isolation and disconnect. Those have been with us throughout the last half century. I don't remember Snapchat being a player in "Rebel Without a Cause."
MrC (Nc)
And now people under the age of 30 reading this are googling rebel without a cause and watching an edited highlight on You Tube "Rebel without a Cause" replaced by "Rebel without a Clue"
jz (CA)
Attention all Luddites, Brooks is calling on you to rise up and, and what - talk to strangers in elevators? His comparing today’s technology giants to the tobacco industry is interesting. Should operating systems display warning messages from the surgeon general that using social media can cause depression, social isolation and crippling thumb disorders? Every generation fears changes they see coming for themselves and for future generations, whether it’s textile machines or televisions, or artificial intelligence. Such fears are probably healthy as they encourage some self-reflection and may even cause some slowing of so-called progress to allow for more thoughtful adoption. But, ultimately it is change itself that we fear and then we manufacture reasons for the fear, reasons that we support with statistics that are bent to show whatever hypothesis we happen to like. The fact is we humans adapt by trial and error. We invent first and figure out best practices later, usually after much suffering and social dislocation. Change is always painful, but trying to predict what is good versus bad is not something we’re particularly good at. New technologies never just increase efficiency and save time. They create new activities, new ways of interacting, and new perspectives on what it means to be human.
Marybeth John (Bellevue WA)
New perspectives on what it means to be human? What's changed?...Other than a plethora of choices?
pjd (Westford)
Instead of addressing so-called device addiction, it would be far more beneficial to put energy and resources into true threats: criminal exploitation of computer and communication vulnerabilities and the intrusion of foreign powers into our domestic politics. We need tech's attention on these critical problems, not the shiny objects of their own invention.
ShawnH (Seattle)
Tech is is just like every other industry. Some people are malicious, others are not. I’ve worked in tech for 20 years and I can tell you that it’s not being evil that is an issue here. Most people in tech are there because they love inventing, they love creating, they love math and science and coding. But they are also deeply naive about the potential pitfalls. Much of this has to do with societal upbringing. Tech is primarily men, who are not raised to think about or care about empathy, cultural or societal impacts. In the US that is still the domain of women, who are under represented in tech, and certainly promoted more slowly and listened to less frequently. This naievity also extends to all the bad ways their tech can be used since they themselves are not targeted for hate and harassment online like minorities are. They are even less represented than women are. Combine this lack of diverse experiences and viewpoints with our capitalistic society where social responsibility is for chumps and shareholder value is all that matters, with people’s lack of understanding about the tech they use, and failure to read terms and conditions, and here we are.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
Sure we should read terms and conditions; don't sign until you've read what you're about to sign. But it's not as though you can shop around for a more user-friendly license agreement.
linden tree islander (Albany, NY)
Very smart comment, ShawnH.
Jason Shapiro (Santa Fe , NM)
Tech corporations, like all corporations, merely want "more;" more wealth, more market share, more unrestrained control over people and things. This does not make them "evil," rather they are more like cobras. There is nothing inherently evil about a cobra, it is a large, venomous snake that has been perfectly adapted by natural selection to do cobra things - eat, grow, protect itself, and produce more cobras. Those are essentially the things that companies want to do and it is up to society to limit, control, and restrain them.
Sal Carcia (Boston, MA)
One might conclude that social media is the new Sesame Street.
Pilot (Denton, Texas)
One of the worse days of my marriage was when my mother gave my wife an ipad. Since that day, she literally comes home from work and spends the remaining hours of her day playing on facebook or surfing the web. She grabs the ipad before saying hello to me or hugging our daughter. She spends less time with our daughter. She gets angry when I ask her to put the ipad away to do something like an alcoholic having her whiskey taken away from her for being too drunk. I bet Apple and Google will soon get into the rehab business.
John (Garden City,NY)
The Tech people are the "Robber Barrons" of today. Your article is spot on. As all the tech companies surely know they are polluting the minds and creating unhappy people. Sure you can have virtual reality, in the 60's and 70's we called that LSD. Younger people are being taken in by the thrill of "connecting" with others and having digital friends without the burden of having to actually physically meet the other person. Gun violence on the rise, mass shootings ? Ever see the video games that are being played ? Take a peek at Halo or Grand Theft Auto to just name a couple of examples. You can kill many people with automatic weapons, get killed and get back up, not in real life however. Without question the Tech industry has given us great benefits, however it seems to now be taking advantage of younger people and exploitation of many with advertising revenues as their only goals. PS the "Gig" economy used to be called I do Odd Jobs. Gig is cooler.
Hugh Massengill (Eugene Oregon)
Truth is, none of us know what good, or evil, this tech tidal wave will bring to our culture. Few of us, and certainly not me, could even imagine this time, where one has a phone and computer in one's pocket, one can get any info we need in a second, or quicker, one can watch video of unimaginable beauty, live. As for me, I think it is worth the risk. At one time it was said educating women was a waste, and would lead to all sorts of disruption on our culture. It was said giving them the vote would...well, you get the idea. It isn't tech that is the most responsible for our American social misery, it is our bizarre economic and educational system. We are a nation of intentional income inequality, educational inequality, and abandonment of our poor and powerless. Not sure there is a "we" left in America, and that is what is driving our malaise. Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon
JP (Southampton MA)
But let us also be mindful of the research that shows that technology has negative impacts. What we need to do is to discuss a balance, and not just adopt every new iteration from the tech world.
Blackmamba (Il)
America was built by enslaved black African labor working on land stolen from brown Native Americans. I remember when no black football player was "smart" enough to play quarterback in the NFL like those Leonardo Da Vinci avatars Bart Starr and Johnnie Unitas.
Dennis LaGory (Chicago, IL)
Don't forget about planned obsolescence. Do we really need ten iPhone models?
Blackmamba (Il)
David Brooks does not know technology nor science. Technology is not evil nor good nor neutral. It just is. So is science. Socioeconomics, politics, theology, history and arithmetic are evil, good and neutral. Mr. Brooks grasp of those areas is clouded by his gender, color aka race, his national origin and ethnicity, his faith and partisan political bias. Science and technology are tools that can be abused and misused. But we always have choices. They will not destroy our young. Private business in a free market capitalist society is wholly driven ethically and legally to maximize profitable shareholder return. Monopoly power is a myth that the next science technological innovation destroys in a divided limited power Constitutional republic with laws that protect competition and consumers. We are biologically DNA genetically driven by 300,000+ years of evolution as one of three closely related primate ape species to crave fat, salt, sugar, water, habitat, sex and kin by any means necessary including conflict and cooperation. There is only one multicolored multiethnic multi-faith human race species. We have diverse free will and accountability. We are not the partisan political left anti-corporate nor right anti-progressive automatons malignly imagined by Mr. Brooks and his ilk. We have used yells, smoke signals, flags and drums to talk to each other. The purpose of communication across national language and cultural barriers is understanding and empathy.
Petey tonei (Ma)
Eventually we will all realize that we are one huge organism thinking different countless thoughts via our individual portals. There is only one Being doing the thinking but it seems to have countless forms, inconceivable and incomprehensible to the puny human brain. If that is the end goal, perhaps technology, in all its evil ness and goodness, is leading us that frontier.
Marat In 1782 (Connecticut)
Peter, you're on the cusp of a revelation here. Pursue this thought.
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
This column is a bit over the top, even if there are some truths stated within it. First of all, he inappropriately lumps 4 big tech companies into one monolithic notion of social media giant. Facebook indeed is, and may be the most subject to his complaints about social interactions (along with Twitter, which he doesn't mention). Apple is a computer and phone gadget company that also provides software solutions for those devices. Amazon is a giant retailer that tries to sell everything, and it's lead in online shopping may affect the economy, but not social interactions. Google is mostly a search and advertising platform, although it gets into almost everything else, including some social media. To me, the revelations that Facebook and Twitter provided means for Russian cyberattacks on our election integrity is the biggest concern, but Brooks doesn't even mention that. Certainly one could levy some of the same, or even worse criticisms to the television industry, but we have become accustomed to their abuses. Fox news in particular has used its platform as a highly misleading vehicle for shaping political discourse in the country. If people have become inappropriately hooked on social media, it's their fault not techs, and efforts should be made by responsible people to improve the situation.
Gord Lehmann (Halifax)
It's all about the money folks. Capitalism is good is providing things we think we need but in reality don't.
JS (Seattle)
I predicted this a long time ago, while working at MSFT in the 90's on start up internet businesses at MSN. My products were all about productivity and saving time; the internet as a tool, that could help you spend LESS time on your computer and more on other activities. But MSN also pursued an entertainment strategy and product line, and for a while used a marketing tag line, the "internet life style." The internet as addictive time consumer, not a productive tool, but an entity unto itself that would make you spend MORE time on your computer. I guess this is the vision that has won out, especially with the emergence of social media and other consumer-generated content sites. My MSN products were more curated; we created the content and tools and offered them to consumers. In the new world, the consumer became the content provider, a brilliant business strategy if all you care about is just creating the platform and care nada about the actual content. FB, Google, Twitter, and other platforms will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a more regulated environment around political advertising and content, lest our republic devolve into an uncontrolled morass of fake news and targeted salacious content that leaves citizens flailing around in half-baked political positions and voting for authoritarians. Not a future I hope to witness.
MG (Massachussets)
Thanks for quoting Rabbi Heschel, one of the last of the wise ones. Tech is merely a tool which has become, through promotion and addiction, an idol. Truth, community and wisdom have been assaulted, as we are the poorer for it. Does one really expect tech moguls to abandon the power and wealth accumulated in the process? Nor do we have a wise government than can speak powerfully to the problems raised by tech. That is not to say that all is lost. But how, and by whom, will sanity return?
Richard Scharf (Michigan)
Yes, imagine a world where people (tech companies) behaved like advanced human beings! Some mythical species of human does not populate the world. We are what we are -- all egalitarian until we accumulate any kind of power, then we never fail to abuse that power. All of us, particularly the powerful, need to be regulated in order for society to work well for everyone. That means a government stronger than the entities it regulates that is itself regulated. But Americans think "they built that" in complete isolation, without standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. We don't want no guv'mint telling us what to do!
Boston Barry (Framingham, MA)
By tech, Brooks apparently means social media or communications enablers. While nothing is perfect, society is always better off when people are able to talk to each other and promote their ideas to a wide audience. I'm 71. When I was a teen, we were told that we overused the telephone. Too much talking was ruining our lives and preventing us from living productive lives.
El Jamon (NYC)
With the help of a few other parents, we attempted to build a bike park in our community. The goal went beyond creating a safe place for kids to ride. We attempted to take a small patch of ground, maybe less than an acre and add a rambling clay pump track, with berms and undulations, that would be a community hub. My personal hope was that it would inspire kids off of electronics, giving parents yet another tool in the endless litigation over screen time. How about inspiring kids off of electronic and away from screens? The vision for this pump track went beyond fresh air and exercise. Spontaneous play, not tethered to a formal, scheduled playdate. "Hey, meet me at the pump track, after school." Family interaction. Take a train home early from the city, grab your bikes and your kid and go to the pump track. Don't talk about SATs or college applications. Maybe don't say a word and just ride with your kid. A community hub. Bring disparate groups together and have fun. Stealth fitness. Kids on a bike pump track don't even realize they're getting in shape. Our proposal has met resistance from neighbors, some of whom have already raised their children and live half their year in warmer climates. Not in my backyard. It has been disheartening to come up against such selfishness and lack of vision, as we face an opioid epidemic and screen addiction in our communities. There are tools out there, folks. We just need to dust them off & welcome analog alternatives.
Steve Collins (Washington, DC)
A welcome addition to the discussion of our internet-fueled social malaise. Mr. Brooks has stirred up some tech defenders but it is not the technology itself that he is calling into question. It is the intercontinental behemoths monetizing our data and our time for their corporate benefit. In essence, we are their unpaid labor, our countless hours of effort contributing to their wealth rewarded with soma-like dopamine surges that addict us but ultimately leave us longing for fulfillment in real life. I’m not sure what might be the digital equivalent of throwing wooden shoes into the mechanical looms. Perhaps we should go on strike. What would happen if we all turned away from Facebook for 24 hours, not really to honor the Sabbath (recognizing Mr. Brooks again trying to bring in the Ten Commandments) but to honor our humanity. Netizens of the world unite—you have nothing to lose but your chains.
Eric (Seattle)
By pure coincidence, before I turned to the NYT tonight, I had spent a full hour trying to delete my Facebook account, which I never use, and don't want to be associated with any longer, particularly because I don't want to be tracked by them. No luck at all. The help section unhelpfully suggests I "contact" them, when I have confirmed in several Google searches, that there is no way of doing so. I am sure that connecting with scads of libertarian aborigines who have relocated to Barcelona and like the Beatles but only before Yoko is much easier. Trying to navigate what should be a simple and easy process to opt out confirms every feeling I've had that Facebook is conspiring to take over the universe by serving us up whole, eating us alive and selling our children to the Martians, so that their employees can take all the good apartments in our more desirable cities, and leave them empty.
DogBone (Raleigh, NC)
My dealings with tech result in what I am calling "Sloth Intellect". Over simplistic views of human nature has been their undoing. Google was founded by engineers who believed in a programming solution to every problem. Initial belief was that customer service, marketing, sales and tech support could be baked in. Facebook realized they could monetize and manipulate the social interaction lode they had stumbled onto with clever algorithms. Their being only half right has created the social morass that has now been exposed.
Edward Lindon (Taipei)
Lots of correlations cited, but little evidence of causation. Perhaps it's that awkward loners with suicidal ideation are more likely to spend time online, rather than that the internet makes you desperate. And maybe those loners are actually less likely to harm themselves because they can make connections online; often, distance from unsympathetic peers is exactly what one needs. Thus, in the absence of counterfactual evidence (i.e. without the internet, what would have happened) or some actual causal analysis, all this is just chatter - articulating personal prejudice and lazy thinking. Frankly, Mr Brooks, these days your column is just a series of unexamined assumptions that reveal far more about you than the world you claim to describe.
esp (ILL)
"How evil is tech?" The true evil of tech is AI. Before long tech will take over most of our jobs as we know them today. The true evil of tech is that we are all subject to hacking and the loss of our security and privacy.
RajeevA (Phoenix)
It’s all right, David Brooks. Tech is here to stay and is bound to become even more intrusive in our lives. Soon, in self-driving cars, our eyes will be glued to our phones or perhaps even the windshield which will be a giant screen. Friends will party in virtual reality while sitting alone on their couches. Then, as tech brings work and leisure to our house, Amazon delivers everything that we need by its drones and Facebook lets us connect to anyone of the billions of humans hidden as disembodied electromagnetic entities in its databanks, there would be no need ever to leave our homes. Tech is not evil, David. It’s a new way of doing things and sometimes does bring disruption in its wake. But the ways of the past that you love so much are gone forever and are not coming back. We are evolving into different beings and the future will be much stranger than we can even imagine. All four of my children are currently engrossed in their smartphones. I go into their rooms and talk to them. They look up at me and smile. See, David, it’s not so bad!
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
The NYT needs to stop anointing "NYT Picks." The NYT already selects topics, content, facts, and analysis. It shouldn't also be swaying readers' views of its articles and opinion pieces.
JKile (White Haven, PA)
Sounds bad to me.
rslockhart (New York)
Didn't Isaac Asimov write a novel about this exact, isolated scenario? With murder, and robots, and possibly murderous robots?
Craig McDonald (Mattawan, MI)
David, I have a solution for you: search eBay for a Motorola DynaTac 8000X, the "brick" cell phone from 1983. It costs $3,995, so out of the price range of kids today (except of course the children of the 1%). It also weighed over two pounds, so in a sense there was a built-in mechanism for putting it down once in a while and participating in a real face-to-face conversation. Or maybe some reflection about "the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive," humility, and all of our non-failing institutions!
Steve (Hunter)
Years ago I would frequent my local coffee house. People would share sections of the day's newspaper and there was often mellow jazz or perhaps some chamber music playing in the background. Seating was in clusters, a mix of old over stuffed chairs along with an eclectic mix of tables and wooden chairs. People gathered in groups and engaged in conversation. Young kids often accompanied their mothers and provided fun for the adults. It was a real community gathering place, a safe and warm environment to escape a dreary Seattle day. Fast forward to today and the comfy well worn furniture has been replaced by two person bar tables and stools and vulgar rap or hip hop blares in the background. Few people are engaged in conversation with the vast majority sitting alone, head phones on in a virtual world of smart phones and iPads disconnected from each other and their environment. The promise of technology was information and information retreival not as a replacement for human communication and intimacy. Facebook is a cruel joke played on our societies. We need a time out to reasses tech and put it in its place as opposed to letting it rule our lives.
Ami (Portland, Oregon)
Everything in moderation. Technology isn't evil but we do need to be responsible for how we use it. Just like we know that spending hours in front of the television isn't good for us, we're learning that our constant state of connection isn't healthy either. We need to be responsible enough to teach our children moderation and the importance of facetime just like our parents told us to turn off the TV and go outside to play. My problem with Facebook and Twitter is that they put profit before country and allowed a foreign power to use their platform to spread misinformation and deliberately divide our country along our fault lines. They should be held to the same standards as radio, TV, and print when it comes to advertising. We can't trust them to police themselves, they've already failed the test. Our political leaders need to ensure that they are properly regulated so that this never happens again.
Kyle (Texas)
This is a good article but there is much more to talk about. Companies that don't have anything to do with technology are scurrying to try to connect their products to the internet because they think the products will sell better. The toy doll that spies on children (see is just one product that should never have existed. The car companies have all adopted the tech bug to guide them (Mary Barra said she believes GM is a tech company) and they keep adding lights, sounds and touchscreens that make it hard to focus on what a driver needs to focus on (driving safely). Consumer product regulation is too far behind the market and consumers are suffering.
Mark (Rocky River, Ohio)
The entire lack of culture and absence of parenting is to blame. I am an "old school guy". I work in technology provided to large corporations. For them it is a tool. I don't even carry a "smartphone." I attribute this to my appreciation of what I learned in childhood. The era when we learned to dance by holding on to one another. There is a lesson in their for all my "juniors."
William (Georgia)
I remember a time when it was considered rude to talk on a cell phone in public. Now people are walking around using their speaker phones or playing loud music through them. I will occasionally take my cell phone into a restaurant to browse the Internet if I am by myself but I would never consider yakking on it in a public place. It pretty much stays in the car until I get home and I take it inside. If you are out and about what do you need if for? I have a couple of friends that I quit hanging out with because whenever we went anywhere they would sit there starring at their phones the whole time. Don't get me wrong I spend a lot of time on the Internet when I'm at home but for me it's a manners thing. When I am out with people I try to give them my attention. Too bad so many people today don't feel the need to reciprocate.
carla van rijk (virginia beach, va)
The same Socratic questioning could be posed for a myriad of first world problems including: How Evil is the Military Industrial Complex? How Evil is peer pressure and the commensurate illusory collapse of individual choice in just saying no? How Evil is the engagement of conspicuous consumption in end stage Capitalism as evidenced in contemporary USA? How Evil is advertising in contributing to a psychological feeling of join the tech bandwagon in consumers who have an external need to keep up with the Joneses? How evil is the absence of personal moral, ethical & social consciousness while engaging in social media's allure of primitive amygdala immediate rewards? How evil is the breakdown of the modern nuclear family and the corresponding economic inequalities in American life that creates an environment in which social media and intelligent robotics usurp the traditional role of intimacy in teenage relationships? Once these higher order thinking questions are addressed then it makes sense to hold all of ourselves responsible instead of solely placing all of the blame on tech companies who are filling a void that the opiate of hand held devices seems to fill in the marketplace of today's consumer masses. After all if Coca Cola can earn billions of dollars selling bubbly sugar water to the masses or the pharmaceutical industry can peddle opiates freely to millions of patients via their friendly doctors, why should we blame tech companies for participating in the same?
Michael Evans-Layng (San Diego)
As a 64 year old retired on disability I have found technology a powerful tool to counter what had been an increasing tendency towards reclusion. I’m in closer touch with a number of family members than I have ever been. I’ve reconnected with high school and college friends that I had lost track of decades ago. I contribute regularly to the hope and well being of others through support groups for sufferers of chronic pain and depression. I can keep track of events all over the world. I have instant access to a veritable universe of information that enriches my intellectual and emotional life—and which enables me to enrich the lives of others when I pass it on. Technology is also enabling me to be politically active in ways that didn’t exist even a few years ago. Clearly there are myriad dangers to humanity from unbridled technology, but that has been true since the first rock made the transition from preparing dinner to committing murder. We must be eternally vigilant and creative as we develop and use technologies and our path toward proper stewardship has always been a zigzag one. On the whole, however, I am grateful for the way technological advance is deepening and broadening my own humanity and my connectedness to humanity writ large.
Chikkanayak L (Alpharetta Ga)
Nice article I agree I see lot of people getting addicted to tech..I feel rush when I see new tech myself (feel guilty).As we do excercise we need to consider 2 hours daily without Tech or TV and spend time on mindfulness and intimacy development with family and friends this prevents depression.(Using voice talk on phone ,conference calls with family face time is probably ok) .Quit texting and posting everything we see or feel. Alphatetta, Chikkanayak L.
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
This is odd - all the negative comments about "tech" which they are only able to make because they are using it! I guess in an ideal world, all those opposed to tech would be filtered out because they wouldn't be able, or willing, to comment.
Dreamer (Syracuse)
For a long time now, I have been saying that Facebook will ultimately destroy civilization as we know it. People will leave the real world around them and start living in the virtual, internet world. And I can't believe it will be a pretty thing to behold. I have observed the phenomenon from up close - my wife is a Facebookaholic! I am thrilled to find intellectuals like David Brooks agreeing with me. I sort of knew I was right but it is nice to see it confirmed in an article by thinking people like Mr. Brooks. (Disclaimer: I have a graduate degree in electrical engineering and, during my working years, was employed in high-tech engineering research. Not only do I not have a Facebook account, I even manage to keep my smart phone powered off most of the time and so rarely get calls when I am away from home!)
Chris (Florida)
I covered the tech industry as a journalist for more than two decades. I believe there is a widespread misperception that because many of its innovators are young and talk brashly about “disrupting” norms — and because there’s a ping pong table in the conference room — that they’re out to change the world in utopian fashion. In fact, their goal is decidedly old school: to grow their businesses and make money. There’s nothing wrong with that... it’s the American dream writ anew. But it’s important to see these businesses as just that, and not virtuous agents of social change.
Aggie Smith (London)
These companies are a business and they want to make money. They have no incentive to be "moral" and will push the boundaries -- especially in terms of privacy -- as far as they will go. Government regulation is the answer, but this requires people around the world to actually demand legislation that has teeth, not just lip service. And it also needs governments to stop being dazzled by "cutting edge" businesses that are harmful to people. Pass laws! Enforce the legislation that you already have! And maybe start thinking about treating these companies like utilities because that's what they have become. As some experts already have warned, the internet is like water -- it needs to be regulated as such. We no longer really have a choice but to engage.
stan continople (brooklyn)
Over reliance on these devices brings up the interesting irony that barely a crime these days is committed that is not seen by a surveillance camera yet all the potential human eyewitnesses are so engrossed in their devices to notice what is happening within four feet of them. Often, I see someone walking down the street in the middle of the night, advertising their presence like a neon sign with their phone, who are bizarrely cavalier about the danger they are inviting. Many are even wearing headphones. It's wonderful that an unblinking camera can record who hit you on the head and stole your purse, even eventually leading to their arrest, but wouldn't it have been better to have avoided the crime to begin with?
Marek Minta (Melbourne Beach, Florida)
Maybe the tech, as we now know it is a phase, a shift to a different reality of how humans live their live. With this consider that what tech gave: the opportunities to be happy, productive and connected, gave to a large part of humanity who would likely not have achieved this, were the world as it was. Never mind the young who invented a new paradigm. So, now nerds are "up" and jocks are "down" We studied the resistance to every epoch change in history: from Medieval to Renaissance; from Industrial Revolution; from feudalism to capitalism... every time the old was "good" and the new was destroying what good was. History repeats itself: what happened to China after Ming dynasty turned off their tech 600 years ago? Were the Chinese happier? I have no doubt that we will see the use of tech in the ways we cannot imagine, and what will evolve will be the humanity carrying on in such a way that our parents will fret about. After all, can we all say that our parents have been more intimate that we can be now? Really? Wife beaters? What about learning, by accessing all sorts of views, what it must mean to feel truly intimate (equality required... social media helps). Or, what about an argument that parents don't want their kids on media mostly because they cannot exercise their control there? Seems to me that with all the low points of tech, it is now a convenient boogie man to talk about. But, we have to get smarter and teach how use this new tech to benefit all.
Rhporter (Virginia)
Not bad but pitched wrong: an idle mind is the devil’s playground was not just coined when computers were invented. As always the sense and incentive to use technology and time for useful purposes rests on the individual. Her choices of course are framed by upbringing, religion, culture, and education.
todji (Bryn Mawr)
You missed the main two issues with tech: that they have a total and complete disregard for our privacy while they track our every move, and that they are destroying economic opportunity.
Sonja (Midwest)
I don't see anyone capable of putting down their smart phone, ever. As far as young users are concerned, knowing that the Internet is global in reach and that its pages can be stored forever has got to be frightening. I remember when children were carefully protected from mass media intrusion, and exposure to advertising was limited as well. Everyone knew kids needed to be left alone and out of the spotlight to grow up.
Jim (Brooklyn)
How true - how true! "...But we are happiest when we have brought our lives to a point, when we have focused attention and will on one thing, wholeheartedly with all our might..."
Patrick Stevens (MN)
Tech is not evil at all, Mr. Brooks. It is like every other invention man has made; it can become a boon to society, or a curse, depending upon its uses. People in our societies need to catch up with its potentials for positive change and its potential for harmful abuses. Leaps in technology may allow us to cure cancers, grow massive new designer crops, and create data baes to improve all of society's functions. It could also allow the rich and powerful to hold more and more control over all of the rest of us, or easily manipulate markets. It currently allows thieves and liars to steal our money and twist our facts. Technological change will happen. We need manmade and man controlled structures to control its impacts and its function to do good in our world. We need common laws and regulations to manage the common good. I have to wonder whether our governments are smart enough, and can move fast enough, to manage the task.
Ed Latimer (Montclair)
In the streets of Hatillo Puerto Rico, my family describes images they haven’t seen in years; kids outside playing games and socializing with there peers. No electronics. The Congressional testimony of tech lawyers rationalizing away social responsibility was sickening. Tech is a meritocracy of people who don’t care for the rest of us.
PL (Sweden)
E-mail is an exception. It’s just a quicker method of engaging in the age-old occupation of letter writing. Like its predecessor, it can be abused. Junk mail has been around since the introduction of the penny post. But as a means to engage in correspondence with people who don’t live close to you, e-mail offers great advantages, and only very small disadvantages, vis-à-vis the old paper-borne variety.
Cathy (Hopewell Junction NY)
I suppose the biggest indictment I have of Big Tech, is that for all the advancement of technology - powerful logical algorithms that can find almost any fact faster than we can type the query, plain language search engines, and plain language artificial intelligence like Watson - most of the applications have been used to assure that if I look at shoes online, I will see ads for shoes on every feed I see. You'd figure Watson would be more focused on finding ways to give doctors information, fast, to help diagnose disease. But AI is selling shoes. The second big indictment is that the rise of tech platforms has democratized communication - democracy is great - but resulted in a failure of stewardship that was the hallmark of journalism. The platform is meant to sell shoes, not edit content. There are no editors, on the business department, and the content is suspect, to say the least. AS for our dystopic kids, these things have a way of working out. I suspect that kids who spent 10 hours or more a week playing video games, or watching re-runs on TV are also at risk of depression. It might be sinking into a useless pursuit for 10 hours, and not the pursuit itself that signals depression. And they might be tired of ads for shoes.
Steve Fankuchen (Oakland, CA)
The problem is not that tech corporations are evil but that people believe tech corporations are anything other than corporations, entities designed to make a profit. Sorry, but the company that sells you electronic gadgets is really no different from those who market whiskey or laundry detergent.
Gil Germain (UPEI)
David Brooks' analysis of technology would be bolstered if he read my "Thinking About Technology: How the Technological Minds Misreads Reality" (Lexington Books, 2017). The mindless idolatry of 'tech' is highly consequential, and not in a good way.
DO5 (Minneapolis)
Tech is more a symptom than a cause. It allows people the excuse to go where they are most comfortable. We have always had bullies, for example. Now thanks to tech the inner bully in too many is allowed to emerge and mostly without consequence. It is easy to look for villains outside of our selves, to excuse our worst selves. If people are good or bad it’s not tech that is the cause.
Paul (DC)
I have three words for all addicted tech users: read a book. For the execs, hope you love being rich cause that is all you will be.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
Speaking as one of the East Coast Elites (not really, I'm just live in CT and have a college degree, but I do love that accusation), most of the people I know are taking steps to cut back on their use of tech, especially in their leisure hours. We are realizing that it over-promised and under-delivered. I'm not a Luddite (after all, I am reading and replying to the NYT online), but I don't let tech rule my life. And if you need another argument, just remember that the Silicon Valley elites send their children on low/no tech schools.
Jean (Holland Ohio)
An old saying about money can be modified and applied to tech equipment: It is a good tool, and a poor master.
J.Sutton (San Francisco)
Tech is here to stay. Plato wrote that writing was ruining people's memories. He was probably correct. Unfortunately Plato was forced to write down the Socratic Dialogues because he knew that otherwise the memory would be lost. Writing was "tech" to Plato.
Richard Williams MD (Davis, Ca)
Humility? From the tech industry? Whose titans, unsatisfied with having their own space programs, are now planning their own immortality? (Good luck with that one). More realistically we may expect continued unlimited avarice and infinite hubris, with the resulting ongoing damage to our society.
Anne (Cincinnati, OH)
Thank you Mr. Brooks. I don't really think of tech in terms of "good" and "evil" the same way I don't think of mental illness, or a Charles Manson as "evil" (but as an individuall who was the product of many forces combined with mental illness and the times he lived in. But I do see similar problems. I know there are parents (I thought I was this kind of parent) who read to their children and encouraged their reading. Then I found out my oldest son never read The Scarlet Letter in his 12th grade AP English class--not that this occur in my time but I didn't understand why he wouldn't want to read it. Reading was, is to me, discovery, learning, understanding, endless fascination. I felt I needed to read everytihng to be literate. Well, although I am sure there are those of this upcoming? present! generation who care about being literate (uh...Leah Dunham? maybe?....uh...) but I don't see it, don't see how they value it. Boring. Too long. Now I understand why my mother sometimes worried about "death panels" because she didn't understand me or my generation 40 years ago. I suppose things will unfold as they will, and there might be some learning as a result of whatever disaster befalls the phone impaired.
SVB (New York)
I thought I might be clicking to read a thoughtful commentary on the ways the tech industry is skewing wealth, investment capital, the real estate market, etc. I thought perhaps Brooks might delve into the structural economics of the tech industry and how it is harming the social fabric through employment and investment practices. Instead, this piece is a big giant "nag" about what those darn kids are doing. How is this even considered thought?
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan, Israel)
"Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy. Online is a place for information but not reflection. It gives you the first stereotypical thought about a person or a situation, but it’s hard to carve out time and space for the third, 15th and 43rd thought." It is what you make it. I am reading this op-ed on a computer screen. In the "old days" relatives would save me parts of US newspapers (= NYT) and occasionally mail them, or a visitor from the US would bring a whole paper, if I was lucky a Sunday paper. Tech gives me your newspaper, Mr. Brooks. Do you read the comments Mr. Brooks. In the old days I might write a letter which would not be published or even a personal letter, but probably not too often, if at all. "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life." Alas they are in the business of making money. How many cars would be sold if they claimed to just be a means to get from A to B? Things change, including norms of social interactions. Maybe they are not your norms, but are and will be those of somebody else.
Brett Byrne (Melbourne Australia)
David brooks is working like crazy with an article a day to try to avoid the truth. The conservative revolution, while providing economic benefits that need to be acknowledged as having brought efficiency and adaptability and therefore strength to markets that have helped in important ways, has given inadequate taxation that has resulted in the depletion of infrastructure that has destroyed the social fabric. It’s fascinating to follow how many paths he goes down to avoid confronting his ideology.
Raymond Pennotti, Ph.D. (New York City)
Although it may be true that heavy usage of social media CAUSES depression, I doubt that you can cite a legitimate study that supports the conclusion that “Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent.” The most common misuse of statistics is to confuse correlation with causation. Could it just as easily be that depression leads to heavy usage of social media?
Peter (CT)
I was going to join Facebook, but then I read all the fine print in the user agreement, thought about it, and decided not to. Is there a single Facebook user who bothered to read that thing? And Twitter - designed for shallow thinking. Who needs that? If social media is ruining your life, quit using it. Not to brag, but I've proven you can get along without it.
Blue Moon (Old Pueblo)
Yesterday’s Tomorrows If you consider past visions of what today’s world would look like, many prognosticated that we would all be working something like ten hours a week while having copious time for leisure, friends, and family. But it did not turn out that way because of our need to constantly strive for competitive advantages over others. This need is hardwired into our simian brains from evolution and will never go away. There really is no way to escape the inevitable, that sooner or later we will be subsumed by machines and AI – because we want it that way – always to make our lives easier and more efficient. We can’t stop it. We lack the capacity to do so. It is depressing to contemplate that we will have no material objects of any lasting value to pass along to our future progeny, or even any DNA, but that is our lot in life. That’s the world as it really is, not as we hope it is. Evolution is harsh and cruel. But nothing lasts forever, and that includes us. We can regulate technology for a while, as we do with guns, or cigarettes, or sugar in soft drinks. But that will buy us minutes only, in the grand scheme of things. In Pompeii, they could not outrun the pyroclastic ash. Just as we cannot outrun ourselves.
SB (ny)
Please, don't blame the tech companies. They wouldn't have their products if it wasn't for us consumers and users. It's much easier to blame others than ourselves. Don't like how the tech companies are shaping society? Then get off Facebook twitter etc. I did.
KarlosTJ (Bostonia)
The public school system is the number one destruction of the young in this country. Why else do you think the young turn to social media? It's not because their public school experience is wonderful. But that would violate the Progressives' Rules of Society, which dictate that children must be taught by the State, in order for the State to "educate" them better. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook are not monopolies. Why? Because you can choose to avoid them and their products. Neither Apple, nor Google, nor Facebook, nor Amazon holds a gun to anyone's head. "Social affirmation" is a bogus term invented by an inept wordsmith who's trying to look "cool". This "problem" is again laid at the feet of the public school system, responsible for teaching 90% of all students in the US. This "system" isn't teaching students to think. So what IS it teaching them? And why isn't Mr Brooks railing against it? After all, if students are easily distracted by the latest toy from Apple/Google/Amazon/Facebook, it's clear that their education hasn't educated them to think about the consequences of their actions. And that's not the fault of Apple/Google/Amazon/Facebook. It's the fault of the decrepit, corrupt, wasteful public school system.
highway (Wisconsin)
If people choose to live their lives on social media it's kind of hard to figure out how to stop them; let alone to expect the social media moguls to "pitch themselves" in a manner aimed at discouraging users. Let's concentrate on attacking big tech's Mafiosa practices in punishing those who don't pay their freight in ad fees and oh, by the way, their willingness to purvey lies and propaganda from America's enemies so long as those enemies are willing to pay their fees.
Nan Socolow (West Palm Beach, FL)
Hopefully, David Brooks, "Tech" is good enough to repeal and replace our 45th President of the United States. Tech is evil enough to have closed brick and mortar stores all across America. We are living on the cusp of Tech's wrecking ball of our American Empire. This we know is true.
Mark (Biersdorf)
If memory serves, you are a student of Reinhold Niebuhr. “Moral Man and Immoral Society” address this. Corporations are not moral entities. Being tech industries, does not change this one way or the other. All my best and Happy Thanksgiving.
Daniel12 (Wash d.c.)
The technology of the internet and tech companies and actions of governments? The internet is fantastic. The earth itself is like a vast machine of incredible complexity humans have been hacking away at, creating crude technology from it to satisfy themselves, like apes unknowingly aboard a spaceship who hack metals from a console to make only a spear point, and with the internet, high communications, we are slowly receiving promise of more profound integration of humans with each other and the planet. But wouldn't you know, and you can easily guess it, power and selfish individuality of every stripe has stepped in and exploited it and good old establishment even says "These technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive", as if the more profound minds in all their consciousness had a better go of it in the good old days and we should all just get offline and stew in our deeper forms of consciousness disconnected or reconnected in minor and quite ineffective ways! The internet, tech, is not the problem. The problem is good old human greed, manipulation of people, conniving, crummy establishment propagandists, etc. who are remote from the entire bank of knowledge literary and scientific we already have and who intend to superimpose their shallow views whether online or offline to the detriment of us all. That is evil.
MJ (Denver)
Daniel: You make some good points but you completely disregard the fact that the business model of Facebook and Google etc is built around "good old human greed, manipulation of people, conniving, crummy establishment propagandists, etc.". And until humans adapt to a world where these age-old characteristics now operate at lightening speed, with tech that uses us to an extent that most people are unaware of, and all hidden from view (and we will adapt - our current teenagers will be better prepared to teach their children), there will be serious social consequences.
Will Young (Wales)
If humans are the problem, I would have thought changing human nature might prove a more difficult task than changing or rejecting the transient and temporary systems and technologies we are faced with. Historic attempts at changing human nature have proved naive and deadly.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The US is a nation of juveniles with delusions of grandeur now, burning down our own house.
MFP (Philadelphia, PA)
This is David Brooks at his best. The intentionally addictive nature of tech goes a long way toward tipping the balance toward evil. Things like seeing my family send pictures to my 86-year-old grandmother on Facebook for her birthday tip the balance toward good. We can be so efficient and yet often feel more overwhelmed. My hope is that we figure out the right balance as a society and that the tech companies are an active partner in this. I also wonder what role my generation will play in bridging this divide. The so-called "xennials" (born between 77-83) are old enough to remember a pre-tech lifestyle, but young enough to have embraced tech as an instrumental part of our lives. There is not a day that goes by where I don't think about this conundrum that tech poses. I'm glad this column helps frame this important issue in a constructive way.
JP (Southampton MA)
Much has also been written about the over-use of technology is education: kids do much better having face-time with their teachers as opposed to techniques such as virtual schooling. This, along with computerized high stakes testing and the intentional addictive power of tech is all geared to make money, without regard to the damage we do to our schools, to our children and to each other.
Kareem Sabri (Toronto)
I've been a software engineer for 15 years. Now CTO of tech startup in San Francisco. I grant Brooks' points. I'm a big fan of Tristan Harris generally, as well as Cal Newport of Deep Work. Even granting that smartphones and social networks aren't the best use of one's time, that overuse can be harmful, and that advertising-driven companies invade privacy, to consider tech (whatever that is) "evil" is hyperbole. There are several problems with his critique. Given I'm limited to 1500 characters I'll pick one: he laments that "tech" should pitch itself a certain way. Tech is not a single, autonomous unit that has a single moral conscience or marketing department. It's odd to speak of an industry comprising thousands of companies - not just the big 4 - as a single entity. Tech is a collection of people that form companies, and those companies reflect the priorities of society, for better or worse. As an example, tech did not make Instagram into a vapid, social competition for "likes". Tech did not create "influencers". Kevin Systrom made an app to make taking and sharing photos easier. He did not control the culture of his app, and he did not force teenagers to take 70 selfies before posting one. It's likely true the format exploits or at the very least benefits from some troubling aspects of human nature (the craving for social status) but to blame tech and abdicate human responsibility for its usage is irresponsible. I can watch 15 hours of Netflix, but I choose not to.
chickenlover (Massachusetts)
In his diatribe against the tech industry, Brooks forgot to mention Joseph Schumpeter's analysis from many years ago. In his research on the industrialization, he noted that the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one". In other words, it is the economic and technological equivalent of the song we all sing at the midnight hour in between December 31st and January 1st every year - ring out the old, ring in the new. This "industrial mutation" works incessantly. The answer is not so much as to blame the greedy tech companies or its C-suite folk as much as to see how to harness it for national and communal welfare. What do we do when coal will be replaced by other cleaner sources of energy? How can we use the convenience that comes from the use of FB, Twitter, etc. rather than use it to spew venom against one another? In these and other examples, it is obvious that we need policies that will not just rein in the excesses of businesses but also facilitate Americans smoothly moving forward from one technological era to the next. And, in both these examples, the GOP in general, and Trump, in particular, have not just been woefully inadequate, but consciously promoting their ill effects. So, I suggest Brooks look for mechanisms to harness these products before railing against the entire sector. Don't just complain, suggest ways to forge ahead.
Al Mostonest (Virginia)
Look at any "form of attention" in any field of excellence, whether it be a sports team, an ensemble cast, an orchestra, a great bunch of friends or a great family, or an elite military team, and you will not see tech actually doing their jobs, or being their means of communication, or replacing their intense interactions and coordinated efforts. The use of tech is now weakening our social structures in ways we cannot imagine until it is too late. I think of the really good friends I made in life and many of them I met while showing up in a new environment with others in the same position and immediately bonding to get through the experience --- the military, new schools, new jobs, trips to foreign countries. Now, people go to new places and communicate in the same old way with their "virtual" friends on Facebook. And the tech industry will not let it rest. We cannot settle on one form of tech and just go with it or work around it. The industry insists that we constantly "upgrade" in order to even function with tech. I write this on a new iMac, with Mac OS Sierra, as I struggle to reload all my old files that were and are important still. I can't even transfer my old photos without a new flash drive or a new external hard drive. And this, too, shall pass... (Groan...)
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Much scientific research of recent decades is in danger of being lost because the media the data is stored on cannot be read anymore.
Doug (NJ)
If you just printed all your really cherished photos onto paper, you would not have to worry about transferring them all the time.
Gunter Bubleit (Canada)
Consider the automobile and all the controversy over the mass dislocation of jobs and social upheaval when cars began to be mass produced. Cars are not going away - in-spite of the fact that they create many problems. Tech advances are here to stay. It is we who must figure out how to live profitably with our technology and that is a developing skill we are only just learning. It is not that technology that is "good" or "evil" but the user that is wise or unwise (read inexperienced) that needs to be our focus.
Citizen (America)
I've worked with computers to perform my job since 1990, a time when a sea change was occurring in my industry and everything was migrating towards computers as fast as they could keep up with video resolution requirements. Back then and for decades after I started to see the computer as a better way of doing everything and longed to have all aspects of my work and even private life integrated into them for the efficiencies it would offer. Today I am building one of the most powerful systems I have ever worked on and yet, it's not going to be connected to the internet. Why? The internet has deflated the real power of computing. It's created and converted generations of computer-users into consumer-users with little or no mastery. Few people I know understand the higher level features of even the most basic programs like word processing or spreadsheets. Almost no one I know can use a command line tool. Computer hardware has become as mysterious to the end users as car engines have been to non-gear heads and yet their components have not really changed in 30 years aside from speed and memory increases. We have the most powerful systems at our fingertips now but the best we can seem to do with this is disengage into 'social media' platforms that are creating mental health issues and social decline at an alarming rate. What held the promise of immense productivity has crashed into the reality of being huge time sinks at the cost of personal freedoms. Tune in, log out.
Chris (Ann Arbor, MI)
No offense, but the need to know how to use the command line is right at the bottom, along with the knowledge of how to configure a BIOS. We don't bemoan the loss of assembly language knowledge, either...
Citizen (America)
The point being: as a whole we're barely scratching the surface of what our tools can truly do. It takes little skill to swipe left and emoji speak within a GUI. Many people are great at that but few understand what is even in their pocket from a technology standpoint or use it for more than interacting in an alt-universe.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
When IBM came into the PC industry, it was to put computers back behind the glass wall.
Colona (Suffield, CT)
It took a bit over 40 years after the wide spread use of the automobile before safety became an important and mandated concern. The car companies didn't build cars to kill 30 to 40 thousand people a year, but accidents did. The first response was that better driver ed would improve things. Only after much pressure and much bad publicity did we get laws that forced seat belts, design changes, improved interiors and many other detail changes that have made cars much safer. The Tech companies and the country seam doomed to repeat something like that scenario.
I generally agree with what Mr Brooks is saying. I draw the line with Amazon however. I realize their algorithms are pushing products that I may like or want but the time savings outweigh that. Do I want to spend time going to a store that has a disinterested staff and even then find they are out of a product? Spend/waste 45 minutes on a round trip bus ride to the west side? Shop online with Macy's for example and get the product in a week instead of 2 days? Sorry.
Matthew Burg (New Haven)
I find often find myself with similar thoughts. On reflection however, I realize that this 'attitude' is a consequence of what Mr. Brooks is describing. Amazon makes it easy for me to avoid the 'chaos' of being out in the world with real people. Of dealing with people who are - perhaps - disinterested, but who I impact with my presence, and who I thereby can affect. The disinterest of these people is also likely a consequence of 'tech', and by being out in the world and interacting, I can influence this all. Really, do I need that 'thing' in 2 days? If I consider my shopping excursions as more than that, as an opportunity to take in the world around me, perhaps my experience is transformed.
Jimi (Cincinnati)
I get it with Amazon, but do you feel the same about visiting & supporting your local independent bookshop where the employers love to talk books, you can get a coffee & meet a new friend or old one - and support the local economy - all while connecting with interested - intelligent people.
I no longer think of Amazon as a book store. My Prime shopping is housewares, hardware, occasional software downloads and music downloads.
Max Reif (Walnut Creek, CA)
I don't know that all of this represents my views, but it's something to think about. Myself, I have to differ from Mr. Brooks' assertion that tech does not provide intimacy. I met my wife in an online discussion group, and as our friendship blossomed, I came out of a long depression, without having met her face to face, and in fact, without even knowing, at that point, what she looked like. (There were other aspects of our relationship that did not show up online, but profound change occurred only via online communications. Online communication, I'm saying, IS communication!) Secondly, I belong to Amazon Prime, although I don't know how I became a member, actually. But I marvel at the speed and efficiency of Mr. Bezos' enterprises, another of which is now Whole Foods, of course. And I wonder whether such exceptional enterprises, which are simply the result of wise groundwork and execution, might be inherently benign. Does the question of Monopoly persist, even if the delivery and product of the enterprise in question is superior to others? (I don't know, I'm posing the question for myself, too.)
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
There are a number of comments along the lines of "don't blame tech for what people do or don't do" Strictly speaking, these commenters are right. But Tech falls into the category of passive control. If a road is build by the government, you don't have to drive on it. But the odds are that you will and the road will give advantages to some areas (the shops and companies near the road) and damage other areas (those shops/companies that are now cut off or difficult to get to). Remember the old saying about the news industry "it doesn't tell you want to think, but it does tell you what to think about". Tech is not neutral.
Mike Wilson (Danbury, CT)
One of the problems is a cultural emphasis on and blindness with respect to external rewards. People don't understand the difference between the extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement because our educational system doesn't manage to provide that kind of learning. If we recognized how this aspect of motivation worked on us, we would have a bit more chance of recognizing its effects and making personal adjustments.
Marty (Long Island)
"Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology." Tech response: "Nah, I'm good"
Tracy (Canada)
Although I agree with many of Mr. Brooks’ points, I disagree that the “big breakthrough” will come when the tech industry does action X or Y. The necessary breakthrough is for individuals to realize that technology is a tool, and like every other tool, we have a great degree of choice about how and when to use it. I agree that tech companies bear responsibility for thinking beyond the end of their own noses. But as a user engaging in activity that I have some control over, I also bear that responsibility myself. If your use of technology is excessive and undermining the quality of your life, stop doing it.
Sequel (Boston)
Tech may be moving next into position as the chief agent of globalism and cultural/economic dislocations. It has already shattered constitutional definitions of free speech, privacy, and due process -- replacing them with a burgeoning set of globally-enforceable contractual agreements -- while shrinking the concept of trespass into something that only protects a corporation. "Deliver us from evil" may become the cross-cutting theme of anti-globalism, tribalism, workers' rights, and human rights in the very near term. If so, it will be the political equivalent of the Protestant Reformation, or the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Dan Green (Palm Beach)
My guess is tech knows millions no longer have to be alone with their thoughts. Tech also has a sweet spot with millions of young people, who now can avoid interaction with another person. especially when they enter the workforce. There are untold numerous benefits with the internet to learn contact someone of important issues instantly etc etc. I find those adults who say are on facebook all the time are few but big users others don't become members as facebook is bothersome and intrusive. Brooks comments about young kids is a different issue. Kids are usually shy a smartphone is a great place to hide.
mary (connecticut)
I marvel and embrace this new age of technology. To Quote Dr.Suess" Oh the places you'll go". I raised 3 children when home computers and cell phones became available and affordable devices. These inventions opened up a whole new topic regarding parenting. I gave it great thought before I unleashed these machines into my children's life. My first task was to be the student and I purchased a desktop computer. I marveled at a window to our entire world that was now available, but I had to keep in mind that the viewer I had to pay attention to were adolescents. When I gave permission for my children to use this machine there were rules that were enforced on a consistent basis and I paid close attention as to their travels. All three children receive a Christmas gift of a cell phone when a senior in high school, and rules applied. "Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices."  Mr. Brooks, It is not the job of the tech industry to change the mind of its consumers. It is a Product we purchase. We live in this new age of technology and it is not going away. What needs to be addressed, and at an early age is that these devices are no substitute for human interaction, and we must teach the important Art of Critical Thinking. This all begins with parenting.
cherrylog754 (Atlanta, GA)
Everything in moderation as they say. I have no Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media account. Enjoy Google for researching history, the news, environment, geography, etc. Of course I'm in my 70's and wasn't fed tech as a child. But then we were the first generation to "enjoy" television. And with that the influence it had on our daily lives. I have a great photo (1949) of my brothers and sisters sitting on the floor watching the tv, social media of the time grabbing hold of our minds. But we got through it ok. Today I do not watch tv other than the PBS Newshour,  and an old movie now and then. We have one tv and it is tiny. Weaned myself off it years ago, couldn't handle the commercials. Don't watch football anymore either, again too many commercials. In time the tech stuff of today will pass and something else will grab hold of our minds. And then.....
John in PA (PA)
I agree with Mr. Brooks wholeheartedly, and as a programmer am as deep in the industry as you can get. The ironic thing is that when he says, "But we are happiest when we have brought our lives to a point, when we have focused attention and will on one thing, wholeheartedly with all our might.", he is describing, to a T what programmers feel when they are coding.
jbucks (Berlin, Germany)
You could have also critiqued the underlying thought process behind big tech - that every problem can be solved by technology. There are many problems facing humanity that are likely more solvable through things like meeting other people in person (through dialogue and community), or through using existing resources effectively. Tech can be effective in a supporting role, but it's only one part of the toolkit. But instead of this, the tendency in tech is to invent something new which 'disrupts' existing relationships, and then to leave the fallout for others to deal with. You've focused specifically on social networking and information technology, but the problem exists elsewhere. For example, one solution which is supposed to help with reducing carbon emissions is electric cars. But another very effective solution, and a non-technical one, is to use far less energy in the first place.
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
Great column. We should have seen this 10 ears ago. We need more of these. And let's make one more important point. Tech has infected schools. It is being used in ways that are not efficient and are not productive. School are now less efficient and productive. Students who are already overworked are burdened with managing dozens of on-line schedules, tutorials, and applications, which are poorly designed and slapped together to make money off the schools. Instead of using computers to learn, students are using them to play more games, surf more web, watch more videos, and connect with more social media.
Olonoff (Northern Virginia)
While I agree with the column, it's not correct to use the term "tech" as equivalent to social media. There is a lot more to technology than social media, which is tech only in that it uses a computer platform and algorithms. In a sense, we've weaponized a few tools of technology against ourselves, but there's a lot of "tech" that shouldn't be demonized.
V (LA)
What, no mention of the Russians weaponizing big tech and social media against us, Mr. Brooks? It was just revealed a few weeks ago that Russian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan and Wisconsin. Facebook previously reported that an estimated 10 million users had seen ads bought by Russian-controlled accounts and pages. Twitter told congressional investigators a couple of weeks ago that it has identified 2,752 accounts controlled by Russian operatives and more than 36,000 bots that tweeted 1.4 million times during the election. The company previously reported 201 accounts linked to Russia. Yet another company putting their own profit ahead of what's good for their county. These companies have so much in common with Trump, as both lie, repeatedly, about Russia and Russia's influence. MAGA indeed: Make America Greedy Again
H Smith (Den)
Good article. I agree, tech social platforms are shallow and limited. But this is not new; TV was called the "great wasteland" in the 1960s. Tech social platforms are also dangerous to the user. But you can only go so far with blaming social platform companies (they are not tech and do not create technology, they program computers). We got to fire our smartphones. Each of us. I am a tech forever (first job was in software engineering) and I aint got one. Dont need one. Wont use one.
Dan Green (Palm Beach)
Good mention of TV in it's early days, I can remember in the 60's , how relieved Mothers were, they could sit Junior in front of tube all day and keep him amused. My nannie so I was told took me for a walk and to a near by zoo. Later I had the radio and read books. Today TV is an insult to my intelligence. With that said, many folks have it on all the time. Point is kids on smart phones is no surprise.
gleapman (golden, co)
As kids long before cellphones, we would get on our bikes and head the shopping center, the bowling alley, the park, a friend's house. If the bike had a flat tire or the chain broke or we got lost or it started to rain, we were on our own. We had to decide how to fix what went wrong. We could look for a pay phone or knock on a stranger's door or walk the broken bike home or to a friend's house. Even if we found a phone and called home, there was a good chance nobody was there (and the phone gave us back our dime, since there was no answering machine). Now it's pull a phone out of my pocket to call or text the phone in mom's pocket. Problem solved. No analysis, no creativity, no options to produce, no decision to make, no survival instinct to trigger, no learning moment. But that's okay. If something goes wrong 20 years later, pull the phone from your pocket and text mom, "I'm moving back home."
Liz (NYC)
I think many of us, myself included, indulge our kids too much with their tablets or phones because we're tired from work and it's convenient when they're passive in their room or on the couch. That's not wrong, after all most kids do already have plenty of sports, arts, music classes etc. It's better for them to read a book or magazine, newspaper, ... however (not on the phone or tablet...). It's helpful that finally some convenient devices are available (e.g. Circle With Disney) that let us limit the mobile device time of our kids to 1 hour or so per day.
Rudy Flameng (Brussels, Belgium)
I would add a further critique. Tech isn't interested anywhere near enough in content. It surrenders its medium to others who may inject whatever they want and call it truth. This makes for a beguiling, but ultimately pernicious cocktail, as the mechanism is designed to make 'content' spread at the speed of light and mistakes, intentional or not, simply cannot be corrected. With an audience that consists primarily of young people, who haven't (yet) been given the tools to evaluate what they are presented with, we are conditioning our children to be mentally thoughtless and emotionally visceral. The question is whether we, as parents and voters, will find the means, the strength and the perseverance to convince our elected representatives to take appropriate action. Bearing in mind that political success is nowadays determined to a very large extent by popularity, often fueled by social media, this isn't a done deal.
woofer (Seattle)
Tech did not invent the consumer addiction model but certainly has made great strides toward perfecting it. Since World War II the consumer economy has been increasingly predicated on selling people things that they really don't need. The entire advertising industry has been devoted for years to developing techniques for generating mass desires for nonessential objects and experiences. The inevitable corollary to this is that for every addiction that corporate research can identify and isolate there must be a commercial product that can target it. Techies have become very proficient at proliferating products that cater to every nuance of every addiction. What seems to be different is that, on nearly every issue, tipping points are being reached. Desires that once seemed manageable now totally dominate the mind. Individual autonomy is being threatened and, as Brooks suggests, the patterns created by commercial devices are increasingly shaping our most basic thought patterns. In the long term, this may force human minds to evolve a higher level of discernment. But right now it's generating cultural degradation and a disorienting level of fear.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
Woofer, it is not just that people don't need this stuff, its is that they don't even want it. I help people declutter their homes, so I know how American homes are filled with stuff they never wanted and can't figure out why they bought it.
Liam Jumper (Houston, TX)
Yes, indeed it is evil only you’ve missed most of the picture. Trump won because of the gross income inequality running rampant in this nation. It is going to become even worse unless we take notice and very soon build in some safeguards. The third largest factory in South Korea, a Hyundai factory, has 100 employees. Raw materials go in one end. At the far end a few employees drive completed cars to the storage area to ship them to overseas markets. Most of the employees are robotics engineers. They wear lights because the factory interior is unlit. Where does the wealth this factory generates go? It’s not into pockets of the several thousand it doesn’t employ. You’ll find them at the nearby railroad station peddling dried octopus. They return home to shanties. That’s America’s automated future if we don’t wise up. Self-driving trucks are hot tech news. How many hundreds of thousands of those good-paying jobs will be displaced? What will the unemployed do for income? Likewise, retailers are eager to replace cashiers with checkout kiosks. I was in Target the other day at about 10 AM. There were zero clerks; only a supervisor for the self-checkout stations. I no longer shop at Target. Indifference to this tech problem has already brought ugly outcomes. Continue blithely replacing people with "tech" and pretending the magical marketplace will pop up an employment solution and ugly will turn to brutal, evil behavior on a scale not seen since WW II.
Michael (North Carolina)
Articulate, spot-on comment. This is why I read NYT.
Hybrid Vigor (Butte County)
This is right on. Also imagine who the reality-bending social media will tell the heavily-armed displaced to blame for their vanished jobs? Definitely not the robots. When push comes to shove, tech will side with fascist opportunists whipping the flames rather than countenance any reform, enhancement of the social safety net, or anything progressive beyond a basic universal income that can be siphoned by rent seekers. Brooks’ concerns are quaint by comparison, more than likely triggered by all the screens in the quiet car on the Acela, or witnessing a child being pacified with an iPad at Per Se.
fran soyer (wv)
"Income inequality" wrote a letter re-opening a politically motivated hit job on the Democratic candidate while voting was taking place ? I did not know that !!
Bob (North Bend, WA)
It's nobody's fault that the children are addicted to tech gadgets. The parents buy them the smartphone, lest the kids be left out of digital friendships. The tech companies just give people what they want, defined by what they are willing to spend money on. The kids themselves are too young to know any better. So who will break the cycle of more tech and more unhappiness?
Elizabeth Fuller (Peterborough, New Hampshire)
The criticism of the tech world goes far beyond what you outline here. In his book "World Without Mind," Thomas Foer describes what he sees as the existential threat of big tech. The tech giants began with a seemingly well-intentioned hope for the kind of collectivism that enables us to share knowledge. But their arrogance has made some of them believe they know what is best for all of us. Many, not just fringe thinkers, dream of a time when humans and machines will merge into a “singularity” that will make the world a better place. Some researchers into AI have turned what they see as the liberation of the brain into an engineering challenge, ignoring what it means to be fully human, imagining something superior. They cast themselves as creators. The new name for all that Google has become, Alphabet, even suggests a kind of Alpha and Omega mentality, the creator and sustainer of a new age. In Foer’s book one of Silicon Valley’s best thinkers, Peter Diamandis, is quoted as saying. “Anybody who is going to be resisting this progress is going to be resisting evolution. And fundamentally they will die out.” I don’t have the space to write much more, so I’ll simply suggest that Foer’s book is one that should be read by all of us concerned about the future of big tech.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Every exponential growth process eventually exhausts the resources it consumes. Kurzweil's "singularity" is a black hole.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
It would be helpful if these photographs didn’t perpetuate stereotypes – try selecting a subject that needs to shave more than once a week (male OR female). I love it. David regularly stares at an app that tells him how regularly he stares at his phone. (I do not stare at any such app and do not regularly stare at my phone.) I’m not at all sure that what David sees as discouragement of intimacy and social cohesion isn’t merely standards and enablers of intimacy and social cohesion morphing from forms recognizable to old white men like him and me to forms UNrecognizable to us but with which the young are increasingly comfortable. I’m not at all sure that the symptoms David describes aren’t caused by an increasingly complex and disjointed society, and not by how kids engage with it and one another. Despite the fact that David is a few years younger than I am, he might consider how advancing age and generational assumptions might be driving his perceptions. I consider these factors every day as I listen to today’s music that sounds every bit as pointless to me as the music of my youth sounded to my parents. Tech is under no obligation to operate within the interactive boundaries that David or any of us who have occasionally checked Amazon for deals on canes and hearing aids deem appropriate. They have every right to push the envelope with definitions of newer interactive boundaries that they believe are more socially engaging. And none of that is ”evil”.
syfredrick (Providence, RI)
I rarely agree with your politics, Richard, but I am in complete agreement with this comment. I have often complained about David's endless navel-gazing. But I love your characterization, "David regularly stares at an app that tells him how regularly he stares at his phone." Perfect!
PE (Seattle)
Tech has changed the way some teens hangout. Now some kids gather to play games online. They wear headphones and talk. They form teams and concoct strategies. This seems more healthy than watching sitcoms alone. Also, tech has enabled many to find their own artistic voice. Some artists are posting their own music on SoundCloud. Teen authors are emerging in creative writing forums. Some websites encourage creative photography, graphic design and digital art. I know one teenager who is creating his own comic series/graphic novel and is "publishing" it online. There is another side to the coin. It's not all bad. Parents just need to encourage the artistic opportunity social media offers. And be open to new forms of communication. I think it's a mistake to paint a dismal picture for our youth. Instead, better to shine a light on the cool things, the opportunity, the art.
TJC (Oregon)
In my day, back in the 60's as a teen, the private line phone was the culprit. Or, cruising in a beat-up Chev. with a friend or two. Those were available, but somehow I spend all my time from 5:00pm Friday through 7:00pm Sunday studying, doing homework and once in a great while going on a date. Somehow I survived. Just because we old folks don't get the new ways younger folks socialize or communicate doesn't mean it's all bad. Choice, life is made of making good choices. Always was, always will be. The Tech companies give you choices, it's up to you to make better ones.
Eyes Open (San Francisco)
When I was a teenager I went to the park to be outside alone or with friends. We wandered around and looked at things, or talked. We went to movies and museums and music concerts. We went to the library to read. We danced. We rode our bikes. We had parties. That was our recreation. We interacted with each other and the real world and we cared about real things, unless you consider art and books and movies not real things. They seem not to be real on the surface but they enlighten the soul and heart and spirit, and believe it or not, those are very real things. "Stop! Let us speak of real things!"
Howard (Los Angeles)
All capitalist industry does what Mr. Brooks describes here. It takes advantage of human wants in order to make money. Candy and soda and high-carb fast foods are beloved and make us obese. Tobacco and alcohol can be addicting but give us pleasure. Fast cars and the advertising that surrounds them encourages speeding and risky driving. For-profit "colleges" encourage people to go into debt in search of non-existent jobs. Industries that produce products that we not only want but actually cannot live without, like medical devices and drugs, pollute and overcharge. Tech is just one more example. Capitalism, often allied with government research, has produced marvels. (The Internet is a good example. We now have a world of information in our pockets.). But there are costs. Blaming "tech" instead of working to mitigate the costs is just scapegoating.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
Money is the hydraulic fluid of activity in technological economies.
John F. Harrington (Out West)
Get ready for hundreds of thousands of well paid jobs to be wiped out by software automation, also known as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Software will be able to write itself forward, mutating with no human intervention, Eventually, this will spread around the world and a few billion will be affected. It's not far away. People need to understand how to steer away from this. However, the young generations coming up are the digital addicts who will be least likely to see how they are being entrapped. This is on an acceleration curve. It could be rationally argued it's too late.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Very good column. The interconnected mass media can provide more information to anyone than ever before. Anyone who has developed profound intellectual skills and has a deep understanding of any given subject has the means to accomplish a great deal. On the other hand it can serve as a diversion which provides a lot of information to those with only a shallow appreciation that mostly has no significance or confuses or which recipient cannot use effectively because they have not learned how. Discussing things face to face, reading, being in the presence of people, are all part of learning how to think and communicate with others. Those experiences form the mind. Then the media can be used well.
Mark Hugh Miller (San Francisco, California)
Frequently I see people using smartphones as a prop to avoid acknowledging or interacting with strangers. Enter an elevator car and immediately the person opposite you lifts his mobile and fixes his eyes on it. You ride in silence. Ditto in corporate hallways. It might be shyness or fear or perhaps a prejudice peculiar to that person, but it can also be foolishness, as when people stride across streets with their eyes riveted to a smartphone instead of on crosswalk traffic around them. Does this head-in-the-sand behavior during one of the riskier common activities in urban street life confers a false sense of safety? ("I'm connected to someone I know so I'm safe among the strangers around me.") I'm an older man and know some young people, particularly here in the USA, are uneasy around adult strangers, which perhaps explains why so many look to their mobiles in order to avoid eye contact with older people. Whatever the psychology behind these rituals of willful self-isolation, the loss of casual cordiality and polite acknowledgement of others in situations traditionally considered appropriate to it seems to me a loss to all.
allentown (Allentown, PA)
People have always ridden elevators with strangers in silence. This is such a cliché that I have been in two management training programs in which the instructor gave an assignment to enter an elevator in the hotel, when at least two strangers were in the car, and loudly ask to the car in general: "Is this a happy elevator?" Speaking to strangers in elevators has long been a social semi-taboo.
Name (Here)
The airplane effect. We used to travel so little that it was somewhat an adventure and we would talk at least briefly to our seat mates. Now it’s almost an assault to do more than make brief eye contact.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
People want to look "connected" now.
David Underwood (Citrus Heights)
Says he who uses tech to spread his opinions.
J.Sutton (San Francisco)
And he wouldn't have even half as many readers without tech.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
A medium as impersonal as this is a test of the raw virality of opinions.
Miss Ley (New York)
In a responsible and courteous manner.
Bill Camarda (Ramsey, NJ)
What possible free market incentives could exist to coax Facebook et al into lowering their sights and pitching themselves merely as efficiency devices for helping us get offline faster? There are none. If this is a problem, the solution would seem to lie outside free markets -- as seems increasingly the case here on Planet Earth.
dave nelson (venice beach, ca)
The problem is not tech! The problem IS lousy parenting! Educated involved parents are raising more intelligent and creative and super competent and happier kids than ever before in history. They will go on to become fulfilled adults who can move humanity into a new dimession of humanistic progress for all. The weak minded and stupid -as always -will become increasingly irrelevent and dependent on the illuminated techies in the next dimesnsion of human evolution - transhumanism!
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
Obviously you are not a parent. The schools introduce the computers to the children as young as kindergarten. Then everyone in the neighborhood except your child has phone and is arranging social events with the phone.
stan continople (brooklyn)
If acing the SAT's because your parents have had you tutored, practically beginning in-utero, then yes we are living in a golden age. In some people's valuation, taking 5 AP courses means you're super-competent and not just super-obedient.
Steve (CA)
"How evil is tech?" Why isn't "zero" considered as a possible answer? The "destroying the youth" argument has been used since time began. "In my day television was called BOOKS!" The "near monopoly" argument is silly. All the GAFA, etc compete fiercely with one another, in markets that barely existed a few years ago. I think the main point is that newspapers are struggling and blame tech for it. Recent election tampering by evil people (using tech as a tool) have given columnists an excuse to rail about technology, but each time you read a "is tech your friend" article substitute "this reporter" or "this newspaper" for "tech".
Anne (Cincinnati, OH)
No. I wonder how old you are. I have never seen so many young people who think they know something but have never cracked their books. These are my own sons I am talking about. It makes me sad for them, for what they are missing. But I trust in time they'll figure out how empty these pasttimes are. And there are great things that technology can do, like providing full texts of many BOOKS to read. I can't help but think how vastly ignorant this next generation must be.
Karolina (New York)
Another critique not cited here is the unchecked peddling and propagation of fake news and it's impact on national politics.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The bad drives the good out of any human activity that fails to enforce minimum standards of conduct. This blog is as good as it is because the host has good judgment of what is fit to print. The larger internet is policeable only by collective behavior, such as shunning.
Marc Hall (Washington DC)
It could be that the world created by tech is just boring.
Phil (Tx)
Well put. Got of facebook 2 years ago when I came upon to realize everything you wrote. Snapchat gone, too. Even now use Bing to search to help the monopoly aspect. thanks .
Greg Weis (Aiken, SC)
Interesting that this piece should be published in the NYT the same day as Benjamin Y. Fong's "The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid." Everything Fong says about the impossibility of our adequately addressing CO2 emissions into the world's atmosphere applies to the problems Brooks identifies as being caused by the massive tech companies. So long as the latter are for-profit entities, answerable first and foremost to their shareholders, how could they not continue on their current path, addicting the young, etc? They are maximizing-profit machines, programmed by the competitive marketplace.
J. R. (Dripping Springs, TX)
Thanks for this great article and things for the TECH heads to consider. As far as I'm concerned "social media" is a STD Socially Transmitted Disease with no known cure.
Demeter (Rochester NY)
I feel EXTREMELY guilty about having read this on my iPad. Sorry!
J.Sutton (San Francisco)
At least half his readers are on tech devices. I'd not be surprised if it were more like three quarters of his readers.
hs (Phila)
Me too!
PJF (Seattle)
The main problem that Mr. Books fails to enumerate is that the only operative driver of social media businesses and most search engines is to make money by capturing attention for as much time as possible to sell as many ads as possible. They are now doing this using AI tools to exploit human behavior that evolved in a completely different social environment and is now dysfunctional in our current environment. Translated: they exploit human weakness for the profit motive. This is now the overarching driver—lets call it the dominant algorithm—of their implementation of AI. Collateral damage is not part of the calculation.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
One word: SkyNet. Just saying.
older and wiser (NY, NY)
Tech sure beats reading the NY Times in print. Tech is not evil. It brings information to the masses. How the masses use tech is up to the individuals.
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
Yes, and we wouldn't be able to comment on Brooks' columns without it!
Marc Hall (Washington DC)
How about tech is just kinda boring.
Look Ahead (WA)
The problem with today's "tech" is not so different than earlier "tech" called TV, which promoted tobacco shamelessly, in spite of the reality that it would kill millions. "More doctors prefer Camels" was not so different than contemporary fake ads that claim Hillary was operating a pedophile sex ring in the basement (with tunnels!) of a Comet Ping Pong Pizza. Except of course, the tobacco ads killed millions.
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
Comparing TV with today's tech is like comparing candy to heroin. 1. Most homes had one TV and it was in the family room where parents could monitor it. 2. It had limited offerings - no endless stream of applications. 3. It did not mix news, movies, cartoons with, for example, pornography. 4. Communication went one way, so TV did not collect data on you. 5. TV was not required. It was not the only source for certain information. 6. The schools did not integrate TVs into the curriculum.
"Shallower forms of consciousness" - nicely put. I can't resist - is this what put our current President in office, as a living embodiment of tech's impact?
Aaron Walton (Geelong, Australia)
You take the good with the bad. For me personally the smartphone revolution has enriched my life markedly. From audiobooks and ebooks to apps that outline a breath-hold training program to sky maps that guide me to the constellations, to a clinometer that allows me to estimate the height of distant objects, my phone has enriched, not dimished my being-in-the-world. In the past few years I have read/listened to War and Peace three times in different translations! Without the phone, it never would have happened.
Dan (Washington, DC)
Hey Aaron, me too. Instead of TV after school, my ten year old son has listened to Huckleberry Finn and Treasure Island on Spotify. Spotify itself is a music cornucopia, opening up vast stores of music I barely knew existed. And yet, what about folks who come to the web without adult sensibilities developed before the web was invented? I fear a tidal wave of stupid. Maybe the web could be fixed with an updated version of the fairness doctrine. For instance, instead of Google serving up websites predicted to generate clicks, it could be required to serve up contrary material outside the searchers field of vision. That kind of regulation would cut into revenues, but the web is a public utility and maybe ought to be regulated like one.
AiKi (Right Here)
Completely agree! I now walk to work and can listen to all kinds of podcasts, or any kind of music. If I have trouble communicating with someone who doesn't speak English - well, there is an app for that! I love your comment about three different translations... I do a similar thing with music - love to listen to the same piece of work performed by different conductors/orchestras. Some of the music is not available electronically, but it is so easy to get from - online! - stores and then digitize at home. My life is better, richer, much more fun because of technology. Love it.
Eric Caine (<br/>)
The assumption here is that someone or some group is in charge at some abstract place called "tech." In fact, tech is now audience- and power-driven. The many-headed hydra of the masses is devouring tech faster than anyone can react, much to the delight of tech's founders. Sabotage, deceit, fraud, cruel ambition, and mindless addiction are only early symptoms of a toxin that could consume reflection and critical consciousness long before anyone develops an antidote. Donald Trump seized on Twitter and the Russians on Facebook because they realized the power of media's new vectors to spread totalitarian poison. The plague is already upon us.
Blair (Los Angeles)
We have refused to join Facebook in spite of requests and general disbelief from some friends, family, and even businesses. Hearing yesterday that Manson's official page has thousands of followers only affirms that decision. A "platform" that enables validation for such disordered interests can't justify itself. We need mature moderation in our discussions and expert content curation in our media. The idea that such controls are anti-democratic is absurd: our democracy has never been in such peril as it is now in the digital age.
John B (St Petersburg FL)
I may be naive, but I don't have any major issues with Apple as a technology company. As far as I'm aware, they do not collect data on their users and sell it, and they tend to make products that are recyclable. I'm not even sure they make any addictive apps, unless you want to count text messaging. And do they have a monopoly share of anything? However, I do have a problem with Apple as a corporate citizen for hiding their massive earnings overseas and not paying their fair share of taxes.
Miss Ley (New York)
Perhaps, Mr. Brooks, it is a tool like any other and one has to know how to use it in a moderate productive way, without becoming addicted or dependent on the above. This can be difficult and one does not like to receive threatening messages that if one does not subscribe to the newest protective shield, one's whole life is up in flames. Earlier before reading this essay, I thought this is not my favorite time nor era, and anything that smacks of math, or computer science is my undoing. A distinguished elderly Frenchman places this American in the time of Montaigne before the Revolution, and it is a standing joke among some friends that I am living in the 19th Century. But frivolities aside, I remember your exchange with Gail Collins 'In Praise of Modern Technology' which was used as a topic for a small international speakers workshop and found it encouraging. Recently a friend gave me a tablet with access to movies, games and more, which I am longing to give away. The T.V. with over 100 choices remains idle. The cell phone is used when venturing out, in case it is needed in an emergency. The last time I heard from my big bro on the phone was when our mother died. He had some kind of fit in Paris without the internet and started 'barking'. Humility seems out of reach, but T.S. Eliot writes that the only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility, and sending you greetings for a Happy Thanksgiving, while counting multiple blessings.
Paul Central CA, age 59 (Chowchilla, California)
I have designed and managed inter-networks for 40 years. By the time the general population understands the answer to the question, "How evil is Tech?" it will be too late. For instance, do you know how fast Google has taken over the information processing for U.S. K-12 education? Do you know why they have? No, I thought not.
CWH (.)
"No, I thought not." You are making false assumptions about people you don't know. In fact, the Times has published articles on the use of tech products in education. How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom By NATASHA SINGER and DANIELLE IVORY NOV. 3, 2017
This is an enormous generalization but also thought provoking offering the reader an opportunity to dig deeper beyond the few words possible in a brief column. Nice work, David Brooks.
Pinto G (NYC)
Our school district has subjected our kids to a great experiment involving iPads for all and no alternative to opt out. No consent was solicited and for those of us struggling to limit screen time and distractions it has been an absolute nightmare. There has yet to be an iota of evidence to suggest that introducing these technologies improves outcomes and if we are trying to establish this then we should be allowed to choose not to participate in this prospective study. I suspect that there are good intentions smeared with the allure of tech's attention and dollars securing future customers who will know of no other way of doing things. Resistance is futile and all we can do is hope for the best because home schooling for a family with two parents working is not an option.
Mj (<br/>)
I work in Tech and I assure I am not working to addict anyone. There are many more companies than the 4 you listed working on all sorts of technology. It isn't the Tech industry's fault that parent's use a smart phone to raise their children. It isn't the tech industry's fault that people give their babies tablets so they don't bother them while they are working on their Facebook page. It IS the tech industry's fault that they capture every tiny bit of info they can on your and sell it for big bucks to marketing companies. I am old enough to remember similar complaints about television. Here is the thing, raise your children. Listen to them. Spend time with them. Teach them that their phone is device to make things simpler, not a magic portal into "babe-land" or "dude-heaven". It's not something you use because you're too lazy to leave the house. It's not a toy. It's not the be all and end all of existence. It's not important. People are important. But first of course, Mom and Dad have to learn this too.
Ken (Charlottesville)
That's good advice, but the tech industry needs to face the fact that many people won't take it, and that many people try to take it but fail.
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid (USA)
@Mj, First, you are wrong about the addictions. It is well-known that tech companies hire psychologists to develop strategies to make their product addictive to people, including children. Second, you are wrong to blame parents. The tech companies bribe schools to adopt their technology. Schools are spending billions on counter-productive technology. Third, you are wrong not to blame tech. Technology companies deliberately make it hard for parents to monitor their children and regulate their children's use to technology. The tech companies want children to get addicted to their product.
Alexander K. (Minnesota)
The tobacco companies have nothing to do with the addictive properties of nicotine or marketing of cigarettes. Smoking is a choice. The food industry has nothing to do with addictive properties of sugar. Eating sugary foods is a choice. The big tech companies are not concerned about their advertising revenue. They are just making serious devices to help make life just a little easier and more productive. The fact is that individual Mom and Dad are no match for Apple, Google, Facebook giants. The kids are social outcasts without smartphones these days, and the neighbor moms and dads have given up and/or are addicted themselves. Computers and tablets are even required by schools (fully loaded with social media bullc..p). By the way, when is the last time you had a doughnut or a pastry?
Leah Shopkow (Bloomington, IN)
Technologies change us. I'm very concerned about the ways in which reading on very small screens has altered the reading process for some of my students. They read the way inexperienced translators of Latin translate by grabbing words and combining them, without paying attention to their context and hence their sense. They go with their impressions of what passages say rather than what the words actually mean.
CWH (.)
"They go with their impressions of what passages say rather than what the words actually mean." There is no such thing as "what the words actually mean". "Passages" are always subject to interpretation.
Richard Swanson (Bozeman, MT)
"Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who spend less time. " Rationalists would ask themselves, what might account for this correlation, besides the facile hypothesis that time on social media creates unhappiness? Perhaps isolated lonely individuals seek out even the minimal connection afforded by Facebook. There is a correlation between low exercise and depression. It is plausible that physical inactivity is linked to internet addiction. But David is an anti-rationalist in the tradition of Hayek and Burke.
Larry Eisenberg (Medford, MA.)
You can't ignore the World of Twitter The Sad spot where mean folk are bitter, The place where a POTUS Can garner much notice By tapping out Internet litter.
Josh G. (Washington, MA)
Thank you, David Brooks! Humility is antithetical to social media. There is, in fact, no benefit to humility online, but a huge push toward celebrity. Celebrities have inherited the earth, leaving little space for the meek. Having just finished Lincoln in the Bardo, a book about a moment in 19th century time seems more relevant to our contemporary moment than most. How strange to compare the celebrity president of today with the contemplative president portrayed in Saunders's book. The more we become phone slaves, the more celebrity presidents we will elect.
Dr. Dennis (Pembroke, NC)
When I taught at a theological seminary I would tell students that the Bible programs (which can do complex analysis of Hebrew and Greek texts in less than a second instead of 30+ minutes using books) should be used to save time, no replace normative reading. There are great time saving Apps (Waze has probably saved me 40 driving hours in the last year) and that's what they should do, help us have more time for life, not become substitutes for life.
rpmars (Chicago)
I think part of the problem that wandering is wasting time. This accelerated pace, this squeeze in every minute, this consume more info, jump to more info, is perhaps what is shredding our humanity - pondering, meandering, puzzling, even delays, might just be ways of accessing our deepest humanity . . . . .
CWH (.)
"... Bible programs (which can do complex analysis of Hebrew and Greek texts in less than a second instead of 30+ minutes using books) ..." I have no idea what you are talking about. Could you give an example of such a "Bible program" and explain what you mean by "complex analysis"?
Diogenes (Belmont MA)
New technologies can have a massive effect on societies. Think of atomic energy and the computer, probably the two most important technological innovations of the twentieth century. They are neither intrinsically bad or good. But the technology companies cannot self-police. They need to be regulated by government, national government or international agreement in the case of atomic energy.
hen3ry (Westchester County, NY)
Imagine if, in America, we used tech to enrich lives rather than to impoverish them. Imagine if we stopped telling people that they are useless if they can't find jobs. Imagine if Americans weren't seeing their jobs going overseas. Even better would be using technology to enhance communities rather than to penalize them. Here's the problem with technology and how it's being used in America. We're being told to do all sorts of things online: shop, make friends, find jobs, pay bills, do our banking, entertain ourselves, have one sided political discussions. Yet what we've eliminated is human contact for most interactions and as we've eliminated it we've lost our communities. But our politicians are so entranced by these tools that they won't restrict the abuses that are occurring online. Apply for jobs online. The applications ask illegal questions: your SSN, when you graduated from high school and college. If you want to submit the application you have to answer the questions somehow. And then the company will look you up on Google to see how old you are. Bank online and you have to give out your SSN to set up the account. But you have no guarantee that that information will remain confidential. The problem in America is that we do not think about how to use things well. We use them and let the disasters occur and then maybe we figure out how to do it right.
peter g. helmberger (Madison, Wisconsin)
Thanks for the comment. But what needs much greater emphasis in the media is the impact of technological change (think robots) as a very important factor, possibly exceeding international trade, as the source of decreased demand for workers in the US.
Dontbelieveit (NJ)
You got that right hen3ry! And know, is not in the USA only. This is a global phenomenon of unimaginable scale. Now, for an Orwellian point of view, imagine for a while that all this digitally well organized and classified data bases fall in a not to distant future into the hands of an Eichmann or Stalin (you choose) character. Talking about disaster?