Social Media and Big-Tech try to convince you that their product(s) is about making your life better or “connecting with people” etc. But the companies themselves have the goal of getting your attention and then keeping you on their platforms for as much of your day as possible. They collect your data and usage habits and then sell your data or use the information to make money off you.
To do that they engage experts in an area of psychology research called “persuasive design,” whose scholars seek to understand how to create something that is next to impossible to put down. Persuasive design combines behavioral psychology with technology to alter human behavior – yes, your behavior.
Tristan Harris, an ex-Google employee, speaking to the US Congress said the business model of big social media companies “is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed. That’s just the fundamentals of how it works.”
Emily Jashinsky says these companies wield their power over your mind, to make you angrier, lonelier, dumber, less healthy and more addicted.
We become increasingly disconnected from the real world and end up “living in our heads.”
So what to do? In authentic spiritual systems/practices, they promote both “dos” and “don’ts” (Yama/Niyama) in order to change your life. In relation to the topic we are coving I make some suggestions.
- Stay off the apps as much as possible (limit usage),
- don’t just look to fill up an empty space,
- don’t just click on things that are fed to you (it is not harmless!!),
- stop seeking acceptance and validation through empty posts
- don’t just react (get emotionally involved or outraged)
- move to take charge of your mind and its’ contents
- get a (real) life (find PURPOSE)
- become more informed (Yoga Wisdom)
- practice tolerance and humility
- be kind
- cultivate spiritual wisdom
“One who is not connected with the Supreme Soul can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” – Bhagavad-gita 2.66
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So this is the third in our series Who Controls Your Mind; and tonight the title I have for the talk is The Metaverse – a mega problem. So in the first talk we did in the series, it was a focus on the ancient yoga principles about the need to be in control of your mind. The condition of being controlled by your mind was considered extremely unfortunate. It leads to unhappiness and grave misfortune. For a person to have a successful, a purposeful and an enlightened life, then the need to be in the driver’s seat of your mind and for you to be directing it rather than it pulling you all over the place, was pretty essential. And there was one verse that we quoted from the Bhagavad-gita that somewhat summarizes up what we were talking about, and it states:
“For one who has conquered the mind the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, the mind will remain the greatest enemy.”
So this was one of the things that we discussed, how the uncontrolled mind is categorized as a greater enemy to the living being than anyone or anything else, because it’s through the workings of the mind that one becomes entangled in the material world and does not experience spiritual enlightenment.
In the second part in the series, last week, we talked about how the world really began to significantly change in the last century, with the introduction of psychology and its use to influence, in pretty major ways, the people of the world who were exposed to mass media, became incredibly pronounced; and the use of these techniques and tools that were being developed, were utilized, for the purpose of actually transforming the fundamental purpose for existence. The way in which people—they sought to bring about this humongous shift in the population at large. And one of the quotes that I used there was from a Wall Street banker from Lehman Brothers, Paul Mazur, who wrote in one of the leading publications of the time,
“We… [meaning the industrialists, the bankers, the political elites] We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
So one of the things I mentioned in that talk last week, and we’ll just, as part of the summary here, there was a documentarian, Adam Curtis, who did a brilliant four-part documentary series for the BBC in London, and he, in speaking about that series, known as The Century of the Self, he presented through his work what he says is,
“…the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of the individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
And for those of us who have grown up through this era not knowing anything else, that doesn’t seem very extraordinary. But when we consider, for thousands and thousands of years, man (meaning humans) have lived socially and individually with a sense of being part of something. But now we’re hearing about this transformation where people came to look at themselves as being all-important, and my desires and my wants should be the highest priority in life.
And of course, one of the tools that was used to encourage this highly negative trait of selfishness was the use of psychological manipulation. There was a conscious effort to cultivate self-centredness, greediness and envy of what others had. But during these 100 years or so what you had were advertisers who were seeking to capture, they were competing with each other to capture your attention for the purpose of trying to get you to buy specific products or services.
But now in this current talk that we’re doing tonight, we have seen a whole ‘nother layer of competition for your attention. Now we are seeing that the great machine of social media and Big Tech, they see their goal as enslaving your attention, not just holding it for a second or two, but actually the enslaving of your attention. They are trying to keep you on their platforms or engaged with devices for as long as possible. That’s their goal. They want to keep you there. Of course, they’re going to benefit from that. So not only now do we have a situation where they’re doing that, plus they are also selling all of your data to commercial enterprises that then seek to utilize this data to exploit you, trying to get you to buy different products and services.
So previously—this is the, I think for me, this is the distinction–previously it was just any time that you looked at a television, you listened to the radio, you looked at a magazine, they could try to get to you through advertising. Now you’ve got this whole other layer where they’ve moved in with you, into your life, into your room, into your innermost world. They access your innermost desires and thoughts and everything, and track it and compile this information, and then they sell it. The way in which they do it is actually completely amazing and quite extraordinary.
There was an article recently in the New Zealand Herald, where the person that wrote the article was speaking about children and how hard it is to get them off these devices. So they wrote, and I’ll just read from what they wrote:
“Every time a parent tries to get a child to turn off a game or put down a device they are not fighting with each other [meaning the parent and the child] they are fighting the invisible army of behavioural design specialists who make technology experiences so hard to tear yourself away from. The people who create apps and games use insights from, and experts in, an area of psychology or psychological research called persuasive design. Those scholars seek to understand how to create something that is next to impossible to put down.”
So they’re seeking to design something that will so thoroughly take hold of your consciousness that you just won’t be able to put it down.
“Simply put persuasive design combines behavioural psychology with technology to alter human behaviour. It is the answer to the perennial question, Why are kids so glued to devices?”
So I mean when you when you consider that, anytime that you’re using, you’re engaging with a device, you have a whole array of people and millions upon millions of dollars and an array of massive computing power all pointing at you. I saw somewhere where someone was saying, you look at a screen, and it’s just like, what’s the big deal? And what you’re not seeing is on the other side of the screen there is this massive army and all this technology arrayed against you, trying to lock you in and to alter your behaviour to such a degree that you practically become enslaved.
Then continuing, she wrote, the one who wrote the article,
“Since children’s brains are so malleable kids are uniquely susceptible to persuasive design strategies. Many parents have observed kids’ exceptional excitement at receiving stickers and tokens, whether physical or digital. This is because the ventral striatum, the brain’s pleasure centre, is most responsive to dopamine, the brain’s reward chemical, in children’s brain, [They’re more susceptible in children’s brains than in the brains of adults] and this excitement leads them to want to repeat the behaviour, to experience the neurological rewards over and over.”
So I saw another research paper where they were doing MRI. They were doing brain scans on children that were locked into and playing or engaged with devices, and they found that the parts of the brain that become excited and stimulated are exactly the same parts that an adult who has taken cocaine experiences. The same areas light up in much the same way. So they were saying, neurologically and physiologically, in some ways, the children’s engagement with these devices had the same effect on the brain. You don’t get stoned, but has the same effect on the brain as cocaine does in adults.
So I went out for lunch a couple of days ago, and we’re at this vegetarian place, and sitting across from us were parents with two young children, I mean little kids, and the children had a device each in front of them, and they were totally glued to what was going on there, to the point where they could not even eat. They had to be fed, and even then it’s kind of distracted because they’re just locked into their devices. And if mom or dad moved or attempted to get them to put down the device they would scream and just go crazy. And it was like, oh my Lord, what’s happening? And—but this has become normal and common, and people are not recognizing what they’re doing to their children by subjecting them to this massive array of computing power and psychological manipulation that’s going on from the other side of that screen.
A little while back there was an ex-Google employee. He was meant to be a design ethicist, if I remember, who resigned from Google because he felt that they were not listening to his concerns about the harm that was being done through the design of different products that Google was making available and selling and sharing. And he was invited to speak, to give some statements before the US Congress. He was one of the people behind, or featured quite prominently, in the amazingly good documentary called Social Dilemma (thank you very much) Social Dilemma, which I think everybody should definitely watch (and you can watch it more than once) because it will help you to understand what is actually going on.
So in his testimony before Congress, one of the things that he stated was that,
“The business model of Big Tech and social media [ and this is his words] is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed. That is just the fundamentals of how it works.”
And that seems like a pretty startling statement, and I think many people don’t really appreciate how effective they have been in having this effect on us.
When we look at the terms, he said the goal was to create a society that was first addicted. They actually study the nature of addiction and of addicted personalities, and they try then to utilize the information that they get from that to design the ways that you are going to view, interact with, and consume their products. And most people will go, “Well, yeah, I know I use the phone a lot, but I don’t think I’m addicted.” Let me see that, right now, at this moment, that you turn off your device. Put it aside. (Or if you’re listening to this talk on the device you can do it afterwards.) Turn it off. Put it aside and don’t touch it for three days. I challenge you—don’t touch it for three days. See how you can handle that. See what effect it has on you. People spazz out when they don’t have their devices around, and they feel this constant pull to the device, all of these signs that are indicative of addiction. It becomes this go-to. Every time I’m feeling lonely or sad or some emptiness my go-to is the device. This is symptomatic of an addiction.
The second term that they used, addicted, outraged; they want people to be upset by what they see, what they read, what they hear.
It’s just so amazing. I saw this little bit of a study on the Tiktok algorithm, which is highly secret, and how they work, too; and they’ve found that Tiktok is able to break through people’s defenses faster than any other app or program or anything. And they’re not sure exactly how they’re doing it. There’s some theory somebody was discussing, the route that’s taken, where they are trying to find your innermost fears, desires, likes and seek to capitalize on that.
So one of the ways they do it is, it’s just like when you watch Youtube or anything, they’re always trying to feed you what’s up next. And what they’re doing is observing how you react to the things that are served to you, whether you actually watch it, whether you instantly dismiss it, all of that information is considered equally valuable to them. So they will feed you things that you dislike, and maybe intensely dislike. The fact that you engaged with it, whether it’s to sort of like, look at it and then get rid of it; and then they will check how long it took for you to have that reaction to what was served, and this all becomes part of the analysis that is done to try and dig into the inner recesses. But they—one of the main things that they found were that if people were just sitting back watching funny videos or whatever they actually were not as engaged as when people get upset by, “What the hell is that guys talking about!?” and I get all upset and maybe pissed at them or whatever, (mimes typing annoyed response) and going to respond or make some comment or something to express my disgust and what a doofus they are, and begin becoming critical. They want you to be outraged at things because it’s part of the process of keeping you more deeply engaged.
So we’ve got addicted, outraged and then polarized. They’re trying to push people into camps, and they will feed you things, or in your news feed, or whatever, they will try and push things to you that cause you to react, to act and to react, and to become further moved into one particular camp or the other. They don’t care which one it is, although many of the people working in the companies may have a preference, but overall they don’t care. They want you to be polarized. They want you to live in a bubble where everything that you’re hearing reinforces your belief system and makes you more upset about the others. This dividing people into them and us—
So, addicted, outraged, polarized, and the third one is performative. Performative is when you are doing all of this stuff, whether it’s shocking things, or cute things, or sexy things, or whatever, when you are performing for an audience, when you are doing videos of yourself, and then you are really thinking about how you look, and how you’re going to come across, and what kind of expression, and whether you’re going to stick your tongue out, or pucker your lips, or give a cute smile, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing engaging with what you perceive to be an audience. And so your activities, and how you speak, and what you do is entirely performative. Performative means it’s not real. It is done to try and get some adulation, or some recognition, or to shock, any of these things. It’s performative.
And up until this age of devices people didn’t really behave this way on a regular basis. There were times that people would behave like this. Now it’s become the standard. And like I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there when they closed down Instagram and Facebook and stuff in Russia, then you had these Russian influencers, these couple of videos that I saw of different women who were just weeping. They were just like traumatized, because they had so many followers, and now they won’t be able to share their life with their followers. It’s just like, oh my God, that’s pathetic. It’s so sad. And it’s even more sad that people are following. They’re just—what’s wrong with you that you have to spend your time keeping tabs on what somebody else is doing?
And then the final thing: so we’ve got addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed. Disinformed. This is their model. This is the type of audience or society they’re seeking to create. And if we consider that if these are going to be the primary things that are really shaping people’s consciousness, sort of like, what chance is there for us to have a healthy and productive society? There’s no chance, absolutely none whatsoever.
And people go, “Well, maybe you’re exaggerating. It’s not that big a deal.” Hey, it’s a huge deal! Look at the rise in the rates of suicide, depression, drug addiction. Look at all—a huge amount of these problems. I mean they’ve got these studies showing directly how, particularly young girls, become so damaged by their use of TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, becoming overly obsessive about their body image, and trying to be perfect, and seeking to be loved, and seeking to be of value through these shallow and empty things. That is so destructive, and it has horrible effects.
And then now what do we have? They are attempting to create what is called the Metaverse. It’s not just that Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is calling his company now Meta. Microsoft is into it. Google’s into it. All the big players are into it. And then all the commercial interests are thinking, “Wow! There’s probably billions to be made here. We need to be engaged and involved also.” And of course, what they are trying to do is to make it so that people are practically living in almost like an alternate universe, an alternate reality.
There was a journalist, Emily Jashinski, who did a little bit of a presentation. There’s a media company in the US called The Hill. It’s based out of Washington D.C., and they have a video based program on Youtube and other places called The Rising, and she was speaking about what the big plan actually is. And she stated that Facebook and Meta is plotting to trap us in a virtual reality, trap, trap us, like an animal caught with a snare or a trap. You get actually trapped in a virtual reality. She stated,
“Zuckerberg is rapidly positioning himself to be the world’s largest landlord, and he is using the same utopian language he used 15 years ago to convince everyone that Facebook would be a global force for good.”
I mean really, when they were promoting social media in the early days it was all about connecting people, connecting people with friends and relatives, and it’s absolutely not. That’s what’s been sold to you, but their model was to get you addicted, to get you outraged, to get you engaged, and to keep you online. They’re not trying to get you
—people sometimes reach out to me on Facebook, and then you get this thing where they’re sort of like thinking of communicating, maybe, and they’ve got Messenger open, and then they don’t actually send anything, or they may send a little thing, just a greeting, and then that’s it. And then usually within a few hours I will suddenly get a message, and it says, “Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?” They did not send that message. And sometimes I get people suddenly send me something, this whole thing about their life, and of course, it’s always nice to know about the people that you’re engaged with and everything, but I never made any such requests, but they said they’ve got a request, “Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?” And of course, it’s just this evil thing that they’re doing trying to get people communicating with each other and sharing information to keep you on the device and to get as much information as possible from you.
This woman goes on. She said that the difference between now, meaning at this time, and then, 15 years ago when they started Facebook is, “…now we know that Zuckerberg wields his power to make us angrier, lonelier, dumber, less healthy, and more addicted. He’s been tested and he’s failed,” she said.
You know that, the more lonely that you are, the easier you are as a target, making the promises of what’s going to fill up your life and fulfill you becomes incredibly easier. So this idea that technology is progress is—this is a bad conclusion. It’s not a smart conclusion.
Technology alone is not a sign of progress. What it is used for is of enormous concern. And when technology is being used to pretty much enslave you, to hold you in a place, to be giving you the next fix so you don’t feel lonely or desperate or unhappy, when it’s used for that, this is not progress. This is just a more subtle form of enslavement.
Last week I mentioned in the talk, and then I posted online after the post went up, a video that I had previously posted. It’s the Moby and the Void Pacific Choir, and it’s the song that they were singing was, Are you lost in the world like me? Are you lost in the world like me? And there’s this brilliant, absolutely brilliant animation that was created for it. And I really encourage you to look at this, actually take a look at it, and don’t just sit there and watch it. Let it go through. Each little tiny segment tells an incredibly sad story. Analyze it. Look at it, what’s being portrayed there, what’s being shown there, and you will feel incredibly sad by watching it, but it’s such an amazing commentary on this new world that we’re living in.
In part of it there was a woman, young woman that was dancing in a rather strange fashion, and people started videoing her dancing, and then they upload it to the equivalent, their animation equivalent there, of Youtube, and then everybody was looking at it and making fun of her, and everybody was laughing at her. And she became so bullied she ends up on the ledge of a building, weeping. And feeling so overwhelmed, she then jumps off the building. And you don’t see her jump, but you see everybody watching, and everybody’s got their phone out, and everybody’s videoing. And then you see them all the following her down (miming looking at phone screen which is arcing downwards), following her down and then splat on the ground, and then every—all the phones are flashing now, taking pictures of this body on the ground. And then they all turn around, locked in their device, and just walk off like a herd. And it just like whoa! What an extraordinary image! What an extraordinary thing! What a commentary! These are not really exaggerations. They really are showing some of the things that are going on.
One of the things that social media and the devices and all these things do is they rob us, they rob us of an actual sense of social awareness. People communicate with each other or say things online that they would never say to somebody’s face, but online they feel they can get away with it. This is what it means when you become robbed of social awareness. And so the effect that it has on you, it dehumanizes you. We become dehumanized. And it’s happening at such a rapid pace. We are all being disconnected from the actual world, and we are living in our heads, as they say. We have become so absorbed in our minds and disconnected from the reality of the world and the idea of a purposeful life. It’s actually really incredibly sad and dangerous. And it’s not going to get better anytime soon.
So what do we? What do we do about it? What do we have to do? In all authentic spiritual systems and practices, there are guidelines in life. They have the do’s and the don’ts. In Sanskrit, in the yoga system, these were known as yama and niyama, the things that we need to avoid and the things that we need to engage in our life. So I’m asking you to please listen carefully. This is not the only things, but it’s a good place to start. And in your own life you need to protect yourself. Don’t think that these devices are benign. They are specifically designed to entrap, enslave, to bewilder you, so that you become usable, you can be used easily. Don’t think that they—“Oh well, I can also do these things.” Yeah, there’s things that you can do, but you really need to exercise a lot of discretion and control.
So I would say that some of the don’ts that you need to try to incorporate into your life, first one is to limit the usage. Don’t actually use it unless you’re specifically trying to do something that is actually of some value. Don’t just mindlessly be using these devices, considering it’s like a loaded gun that you’re playing with. It is capable of doing great harm to you. Limiting usage is important.
Another one is don’t just look to fill up the empty space that you may feel in your life, instead of making an effort to do something productive with your time, to be of some benefit to others as well as to yourself. It’s easier to just feel some loneliness or emptiness or feeling purposeless, or whatever, then just reach out for the device and engage. Don’t use it to just fill up that empty space.
Another thing is (and I highly recommend people consider this) don’t just click on things that are fed to you. It’s not harmless. You know, the things that you get fed on Youtube and stuff, you think it’s harmless just because it’s not a big deal? No. This is part of what’s being used to manipulate and control you in your life.
Another thing is, and I hope people will really listen to this, stop seeking acceptance and validation through empty posts. Don’t post stuff just to seek some validation or to fill up some emptiness, to find acceptance. This is fraught with enormous potential psychological harm. And yet it’s become the norm. And look what’s happening as a result of it.
Another thing is, don’t react. Don’t get emotionally involved or outraged. If you see something that you don’t approve of or like, let it go. Don’t engage. This is what they want you to do. In our life you must understand and accept, you cannot change another person. You cannot make a person say or not say things, not really. What you have control over is how you react. It is far less important to–I’ll go the other way: It is much more important that you become focused on how you are reacting and responding to things, knowing that others, you have no control over them. If you become engaged in trying to change people’s behaviour, and smash them for saying this, and close them down, cancel them, shut them up, you are a loser in every sense of that word. That is a losing battle. You have lost control over your independence to decide how you are going to react, how you are going to be respond. You are just being pulled into something.
So those are some of the don’ts.
Some of the do’s would be to really consider and reflect about the need to move to take charge of your mind and its contents. That is your responsibility. That is where your power lies. If we simply surrender to our mind and emotions and everything, we have lost control of our life.
The next one is probably going to upset people, and it’s, “Get a life!” Get a real life. That online stuff that you’re doing, that’s not real life, unless it’s just being used for simple and straightforward engagement, “Are you free tomorrow?” “Can we meet up?” that kind of stuff. When I say, “Get a life,” I mean you need to find some real purpose for your existence. You need to find something worthwhile, some deeper meaning and purpose to your life, and it’s not going to be found in the use of social media.
Another things you should do, you must do, is to practice both tolerance and humility. Both of these things require that we’re not being dragged around by our mind, that we become more introspective, that we also become more compassionate.
Another thing you should try to do is to be kind. This is a big deal. It’s not a small thing. It’s easy to be a complete A-hole. It’s easy. It’s difficult to be kind. And yet the first thing makes us deeply unhappy, but being kind actually becomes incredibly fulfilling.
Then, really make a positive attempt, and a continuous attempt, to cultivate spiritual wisdom.
And of course, the last item on my little list here is meditate. Engage in this process. Meditation means I am taking myself, the spiritual being, my physical presence, my body, my mind, and I am immersing these things in that which is transcendental, immersing myself in transcendence, which is purifying, enlightening. It is liberating. It is uplifting. It becomes a source of ecstatic happiness. That is why one should meditate.
Closing out I will just read a verse from the Bhagavad-gita, and I ask you to please listen to this with great attention,
“One who is not connected with the Supreme Soul can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”
So without transcendental intelligence, without having this connection with a higher spiritual truth, or reality, the Supreme Soul, one cannot have a steady mind. It will be flickering and all over the place. And without a steady mind, it says there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be happiness without peace? Critically important and enormously beneficial to take this advice seriously.
So I invite you to chant with me these transcendental sounds. Bathe in these spiritual waters of these transcendental sounds that purify the heart and the mind, that give us a taste for that great spiritual happiness that we are always longing for. So I will chant the mahamantra.