By Kevin Urie
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was rushing headfirst into an impersonal digital persona-driven future powered by AI We all could see a future driven by an online world, a world where digital replaced most physical experiences, and AI was going to take over a vast swath of jobs in the economy. When this pandemic hit, this future was thrust upon us almost overnight, and we were able to experience a beta version of our future. Is this a future we still want, and if not, what have we learned that needs to be changed, and what should we do about it?
Since the start of Friendster, MySpace, and MMO’s like Club Penguin and World of Warcraft, people have been trying to develop community online. Users of these platforms and newer ones such as Facebook and Instagram have been trying to make the digital world experiences similar, if not better than that of their real-world experiences. They use these technologies to connect with others, join communities, and feel a part of something that makes them feel more valued. And this new online community technology did what technology always does; it made something hard a little easier. These and other social platforms make it easier to connect with others and to find people of like mind and interest. It allows us to communicate with a larger group of people than we could ever do online. It also gave everyone an audience. A place where what a person contributes to a community could be judged by others based on follower counts, likes, or connections.
The upside of the social revolutions is immense, people can now make online connections regardless of location, and even discover similar interests with a neighbor they would have never discovered before. This technology allowed us to find groups of people that were interested in the same things as us no matter how obscure. If you have a passion, it is almost guaranteed you can find a like-minded group of people that have that interest as well and are waiting to talk with someone about it.
This led to vast amounts of information being shared online, on almost any topic. So much information that search engines could barely keep up and social feeds got overwhelmed with streams of information. We simply had too much data and information, so once again, technology was looked to for the answer. The answer was to create solutions that could help us sort through all this vast information and to give us what we were looking for. So A.I. came in and started curating our searches and our social feeds. Instead of us seeking and deciphering through the data, the AI did it for us.
Where we are today is a siloed AI driven world and we were on track for it to get far worse before COVID-19 hit. We had in store for us a future where our communications, connections, and economy were to be driven by an AI figuring out how to make those things more efficient. These online technologies and AI systems are focused on removing disorganization, chaos, and inefficiencies. Here lies the major problem, however. This very disorganization, chaos, and inefficiencies technology is trying to eliminate are breeders of creativity, innovation, and the serendipitous moments we crave. I’d go on to say these very inefficiencies are precisely what makes us human and a life without them creates a siloed soulless life experience without creativity.
And that is the exact path we were headed, and maybe still are. One of ultimate efficiency, almost a Wall-E future where technology continues to steer us to what it thinks we want so it can make our life easier. To a place where not just our communities are only online, but our jobs, our thoughts, our relationships and anything that takes real effort is optimized to a point where the very need for us to actively work at them has been replaced by technology.
Well, that is until COVID-19 came along.
Over the past few months, we have been forced int