Waking Up From the Matrix

Most of us live in the Matrix, and we’re completely unaware of the damage that’s doing – to us, our children, our culture, our country and our world. Will we wake up before it’s too late?


“It’s plain as day to me. These services are killing people, and causing people to kill themselves.”

[In response to the question, “What are you most worried about?”] “I think in the shortest time horizon, civil war.”

Tim Kendall, CEO at Moment, former Director of Monetization at Facebook, former President at Pinterest, from The Social Dilemma

“If we go down current status quo, for let’s say another 20 years, we probably destroy our civilization through willfull ignorance. … We probably degrade the world’s democracies so that they fall into some sort of bizarre autocratic dysfunction. We probably ruin the global economy. We probably don’t survive. I really do view it as existential.”

“I don’t want to do any harm to Google or Facebook. I just want to reform them so they don’t destroy the world.”

Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, early creator of virtual reality, from The Social Dilemma

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users:’ illegal drugs and software.”

Edward Tufte, Yale computer scientist

“When you look around you, it feels like the world is going crazy. You have to ask yourself: Is this normal, or have we all fallen under some kind of spell?”

“I wish more people could understand how this works. Because it shouldn’t be something that only the tech industry knows. It should be something that everybody knows.”

“We in the tech industry have created the tools to destabilize and erode the fabric of society in every country all at once everywhere.”

“Is this the last generation of people that are going to know what it was like before this illusion took place? How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you’re in the Matrix?”

Tristan Harris, President and Co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, former design ethicist at Google from The Social Dilemma

This Post is For YOU

Odds are probably 90%+ that you found this post via something you saw on Social Media.

If that’s the case, then you’re likely at least an occasional user of Social Media.

Or, like so many, perhaps you’re a frequent user of Social Media.

Maybe you’re even addicted to Social Media.

Whatever your degree of involvement, if you spend any time on Social Media, this post is for you.

In fact, even if you’re not a user of Social Media, this post is for you, because our world is being transformed all around us in response to changes being driven by the primary social platforms and the big technology entities.

This is NOT a Test

This post is a warning.

This post is an alarm going off on your nightstand.

This post is an emergency broadcast signal.

Except this is NOT a test.

I repeat: NOT a test.




We – you, me, everyone who uses Social Media – are being manipulated.

We are being modified.

We are being morphed.

We’re Being Changed

We’re all living in unique, one-of-a-kind realities that were carefully crafted, designed and curated just for each of us individually.

And, without our even being aware of it slowly but surely, one algorithm-engineered newsfeed at a time – we’re being changed.

Our thinking is being changed.

Our psychology is being changed.

Our habits are being changed.

Our behavior is being changed.

We’re being changed.

And we’re being changed into something we would have never become if not for our exposure to Social Media and other tech giants like Google.

Slowly Destroying Us

And, slowly but surely – one newsfeed at a time – this toxic phenomenon is killing us.

It’s killing us individually.

It’s killing us collectively.

It’s destroying the very fabric of our culture.

It’s jeopardizing the very future of America.

The Genesis

The genesis of this post – my personal wakeup call – was my watching the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.

More accurately stated, the genesis of this post was my watching The Social Dilemma four times in the span of three days.

As context, before doing that, I had never watched anything four times in three days.

I’m not sure I’ve watched any feature length movie or documentary four times, period.

That’s how much that documentary affected me.

That’s how hard it hit me.

A primary premise – maybe the primary premise of The Social Dilemma is that our world is being destroyed – on a number of different levels and in a myriad of different ways – as a direct result of our obsession with Social Media, coupled with our reliance on tech behemoths like Google.

The Ubiquitous Matrix

Many (most?) of us live in the world of Social Media and big tech like Google.

It’s where we get most (all?) of our information and our news.

It’s where we stay connected with friends.

It’s where we make new friends.

That world is our Matrix.

It’s on our phones.

It’s on our computers, our laptops, our iPads, our smart TVs and our Alexas.

It’s everywhere.

It’s inescapable.

It’s ubiquitous.

This is NOT a Conspiracy Theory

That premise – that our world is being destroyed as a direct result of our living in the Matrix – is not an opinion.

It is not conjecture.

It is based on facts.

It is rooted in reality.

And before I attempt to prove that admittedly bold claim, let’s stop and consider The Social Dilemma itself.

The Credibility of The Social Dilemma

Because I’m hanging my hat on things I learned from The Social Dilemma, and in order for you to place any credence in what I am telling you, you need to be able to judge for yourself whether The Social Dilemma is, or is not, worthy of that level of credibility and consideration.

Why should you seriously consider the message The Social Dilemma delivers?

There are two such primary reasons: the caliber of the sources, and the motive(s) of the sources.

Consider the Sources

All of the people who appear in The Social Dilemma are, or were, key players in the development of the Matrix, or they hold important positions directly related thereto.

Most of the people featured in The Social Dilemma are or were ground-floor, key executives and insiders at Facebook, Google, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and a number of other major components of the Matrix, including:

– Director of Monetization at Facebook.

– Head of Consumer Product at Twitter.

– President of Pinterest.

– Co-inventor of Google Drive, Gmail Chat, Facebook Pages and the Facebook Like button.

– Design ethicist at Google.

– Senior Vice President of Engineering at Twitter.

– President at Facebook.

Beyond that, other people featured include:

– Ground floor investor at Facebook.

– Professor at Harvard.

– Professor at NYU.

– Significant contributor to the development of virtual reality.

As a group, and specific to the topic of the impact of the Matrix on people and on the larger culture, you simply cannot get any more credible than the cast featured in The Social Dilemma.

Consider their Motives

Just as significant, it’s important to consider the motives of the people who appear in The Social Dilemma.

As just noted, those featured are prominent, well-know or even famous people in the public eye who, for the most part, were (or still are) Silicon Valley insiders.

Many of the people featured are wealthy, and made their fortunes directly from the success of the social platforms and other technologies they helped to develop.

As such, the people featured in The Social Dilemma have nothing to gain by taking public positions that run counter to the larger interests of Social media and big tech.

They have absolutely nothing to gain by going public and calling for the reform, the breakup, or even the entire, whole cloth elimination of, the Matrix.

In fact, they have much to lose.

Particularly when one considers how many of these people are young, with decades of career still ahead of them.

Why would people like that – young, super successful, connected insiders – risk being ostracized or even blacklisted, potentially for the rest of their lives, by biting (or even chopping off entirely) the hand that fed them?

That all the people who appear in The Social Dilemma are willing to take that risk – the risk of a potential self-engineered career suicide – makes them even more credible.

The Social Dilemma is Credible

So, in summary, when we consider the caliber and the motives of those who appear in The Social Dilemma, it is credible.

Very credible, in fact.

Before I continue, please note the following prefacing points:

– The Social Dilemma is really well done and delivers a series of powerful messages. That said, there are no “topical dividers” within the film. Everything flows seamlessly from one larger point to the next, with no specific introductions, conclusions, markers or summaries to alert you to the fact that they’re moving on to the next big point.

– The makers of the documentary trust you, the viewer, to take it all in and absorb it. Given that it took me multiple viewings (I’m now up to six, actually) to take it all in and retain it, I believe the film would have been more effective had it included such demarcations.

– I wrote this post in part to fix that, and to potentially help others identify those big points and better organize them in their minds. There’s a lot to absorb, and my hope is that this post will help you take in the totality of the The Social Dilemma’s crucial messages.

– Everything included from this point on written in italics is a direct quote from The Social Dilemma. I thought about summarizing or paraphrasing the quotes, but so many of them are so powerful as originally spoken that I felt it better to just let the words stand on their own. I did add emphasis in various places, but, otherwise, the quotes that appear at the start of each of the following sections are verbatim.

With respect to the those quotes, the one that resonated with me the most was the last one I shared in the Introduction section above, spoken by the person who, IMO, was the true star of The Social Dilemma, Tristan Harris. Repeating that quote:

“Is this the last generation of people that are going to know what it was like before this illusion took place? How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you’re in the Matrix?”

Waking Up from the Matrix

I’ve been thinking about that quote non-stop since watching The Social Dilemma, trying to come up with a suitable response to that question: How DO you wake up from the Matrix if you don’t even know you’re in the Matrix?

(And while we’re obviously aware that we use the services of the companies that comprise the Matrix, if we don’t understand the implication and ramifications of such usage, we’re not fully awake.)

In response to that important question, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

– First, you have to recognize and acknowledge that the Matrix exists, and that you’re in it.

– Second, you have to understand the challenges, risks and dangers of staying in the Matrix, both to you as an individual, to your culture, to your country, and to the world at large.

– Third, you have to figure out what to do in response to the prior two points.

This post is intended to address the first two points.

My goal is to help wake you up, exactly as The Social Dilemma helped to wake me up.

This post is the post I looked for, but could not find, in the aftermath of watching The Social Dilemma, when I was trying to wrap my head around everything I learned and attempting to assess the true risks of remaining in the Matrix.

To be clear, this post does not have all the answers.

In fact, this post has none of the answers.

Being candid, I’m simply not smart enough to know what to do in response to everything I learned from watching The Social Dilemma.

If I’m honest, I was overwhelmed by the totality of being exposed to that information that was, in many respects, new to me.

My hope is that we can collectively begin to have conversations around all of “this,” and to start to make progress in terms of dealing with the aforementioned challenges, risks and dangers inherent in the mere existence of the Matrix.

Nine Biggest Takeaways

All that said, let’s now consider the nine biggest takeaways of The Social Dilemma, and why I think it’s so crucial that we heed the explicit warnings scattered throughout that documentary…

In the Matrix, YOU are the Product

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

The first 15 years of Silicon Valley, the industry made products, hardware, software, sold them to customers, nice, simple business. For the last 10 years, the biggest companies in Silicon Valley have been in the business of selling their users.

Advertisers are the customers. We’re the thing being sold.

If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.

Their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen.

Let’s figure out how to get as much of this person’s attention as we possibly can. How much time can we get you to spend? How much of your life can we get you to give to us?

We’re the product. Our attention is the product being sold to advertisers.

That’s a little too simplistic. It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behavior and perception that is the product.

Changing what you do, how you think, who you are. It’s a gradual change. It’s slight.

All the things we’ve ever done – all the clicks we’ve ever made, all the videos we’ve watched, all the Likes – that all gets brought back into building a more and more accurate model. The model, once you have it, you can predict the kind of things that person does … where you’re going to go … I can predict what kind of videos will keep you watching … I can predict what kinds of emotions tend to trigger you.

Everything they are doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured. Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded. Exactly what image you stop and look at, for how long you look at it. Oh, yeah, seriously, for how long you look at it.

The takeaways:

Perhaps it’s a bit cliché at this point, but you, me, us … everyone … we are the product, the item, the thing being sold in the Matrix.

Most of us prefer not to be think about that. I know I don’t.

But that is the foundation for everything else of negative, or potentially negative, consequence that happens as a result of our involvement in the Matrix.

Given that you are the product in the Matrix, as a direct result and by definition, something has to happen – and it has to happen to you – in order for the companies providing the free services you use to make a profit.

And what is happening is that you are being changed … your thinking, your behavior, your perceptions about things, etc.

And none of these changes are organic.

The vast majority of these changes are things you would never have chosen of your own accord.

Allow me to repeat that: the vast majority of these changes are things you would never have chosen of your own accord.

Try as I may, I cannot come up with any positive outcome resulting from that.

Beyond that and from a more practical perspective, the primary thing the Facebooks, Twitters and Instagrams of the world want from you is your time and attention.

The longer they can keep you engaged, the more money they make. It’s that simple.

So, all the algorithms baked into all the Social Media sites have that as their primary goal: the consumption of more and more and more of your time.

As you’ll see in a moment, they do this by consciously, intentionally manipulating you, and by providing more and more of the things their AI has learned will keep you online and engaged for as long as possible, with the ultimate goal of addicting you to the Matrix.

Generally speaking, if you’re like most people – with jobs, loved ones and the normal array of adult responsibilities – time is your most precious commodity.

Do you think it’s in your best interest to invest more of your most precious commodity in a context within which the goal is to take even more of your most precious commodity?

In summary, when you are the product in the Matrix – which, make no mistake, you are the goal is to change you, and to take as much of your time and attention as possible.

In the Matrix, You are a Clueless Lab Rat

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

When I was at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, this is what we learned. How could you use everything that we’ve learned about the psychology of what persuades people, and build that into technology?

So you don’t know when you’re going to get it, and you don’t know if you’re going to get something. This operates just like the slot machines in Vegas. It’s not enough that you use the product consciously, but I want to dig down deeper into the brain stem and plant inside of you, an unconscious habit, so that you are being programmed at a deeper level, and you don’t even realize it.

There’s an entire discipline and field called “growth hacking.” Teams of engineers whose job is to hack peoples’ psychology so they can get more growth, more user signups, more engagement, they can get you to invite more people.

And over time, by running these constant experiments, you develop the most optimal way to get users to do what you want them to do. It’s manipulation. (You’re making me feel like a lab rat.) You are a lab rat. We’re all lab rats. And it’s not like we’re lab rats for developing a cure for cancer. It’s not like they’re trying to benefit us, right? We’re just zombies, and they want us to look at more ads so they can make more money.

One thing they concluded is that we now know we can affect real world behavior and emotions without ever triggering the user’s awareness. They are completely clueless.

So it really is this kind of prison experiment where we’re just roping people into the Matrix and we’re just harvesting all this all this money and data from all their activity to profit from. And we’re not even aware that it’s happening.

So we want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you, and then give you back that dopamine hit. We did that brilliantly at Facebook, Instagram has done it, WhatsApp has done it, you know Snapchat has done it, Twitter has done it.

It subjugates people into this weird role, where you are just this little computing element that we’re programming through our behavior manipulation for the service of this giant brain, and you don’t matter. …  You don’t have self determination, we’ll sneakily manipulate you, because you’re a computing node, because that’s what you do with computing nodes.

You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. … We understood this consciously, and we did it anyway.

The takeaways:

That last quote was from Sean Parker, who was the first President of Facebook when it was launched. When he said, “We,” he was specifically referring to himself and Mark Zuckerberg (and a few others), whom he mentioned in the sentence prior to the one I am quoting above.

So, from the onset, exploitation and manipulation were part of Facebook’s plan.

To fuel that exploitation and manipulation, there is real science, and real psychology, behind the curtain of the Matrix.

There is something called the “Persuasion Technology Lab” at Stanford, one of the finest universities on the planet, where people are educated on “everything that we’ve learned about the psychology of what persuades people, and build(ing) that into technology,” and where many of the key figures in the Matrix went to school.

All of this is extremely refined and advanced. So refined and so advanced, in fact, that we are “completely clueless” in terms of having our behavior and emotions modified without ever even being aware of it.

Those things said, if we know we’re being manipulated, our vulnerabilities are being exploited, and our psychology is being hacked – and we know those things are happening, because all these insiders are telling us that, explicitly – does it make sense for us to continue to remain in the Matrix?

Your Addiction is a Goal of the Matrix

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

There’s no one working at Gmail to make it less addictive.

If something is a tool, it’ genuinely is just sitting there, waiting, patiently. If something is not a tool, it’s demanding things from you, it’s seducing you, it’s manipulating you, it wants things from you. And we’ve moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to an addiction and manipulation-based technology environment. That’s what’s changed. Social Media isn’t a tool that’s just waiting to be used, it has its own goals and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.

This is classic irony: I am going to work during the day and building something, that then I am falling prey to. And, in some of those moments, I couldn’t help myself.

Knowing what was going on behind the curtain, I still wasn’t able to control my usage. So that’s a little scary.

Even knowing how these tricks work, I’m still susceptible to them. I’ll still pick up the phone and then 20 minutes will disappear.

Do you check your smartphone before you pee in the morning, or while you are peeing in the morning? Because those are the only two choices.

So here’s the thing: Social Media is a drug. We have a basic biological imperative to connect with other people that directly affects the release of dopamine and the reward pathway. … So there’s no doubt that a vehicle like Social Media, which optimizes the connection between people, is going to have the potential for addiction.

There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.

The takeaways:

Not only are we unwitting lab rats upon whom countless psychological experiments are being conducted every day, but – as if that wasn’t bad enough – the forces behind the Matrix actually want us to become addicted to their services.

If the goal is to keep us online as long as possible, addiction is a massive advantage.

Knowing that so many of these companies are actively, consciously and intentionally doing things – things of a manipulative and exploitive nature – in a specific attempt to addict us to their services concerns me.

It should concern you.

It should concern everyone.

The Matrix is Damaging Our Children

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, any time two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person who is paying to manipulate those two people. So, we’ve created entire global generation of people who were raised within a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation. We’ve put deceit and sneakiness at the absolute center of everything we do.

I’m worried about my kids. And if you have kids, I’m worried about your kids. And with all the knowledge I have, and all the experience, I am fighting with my kids about the time that they spend on phones and the computer.

These technology products were not designed by child psychologists who were trying to protect and nurture our children. They were just designing to make these algorithms…

It’s not just that it’s controlling where they spend their attention. Especially Social Media, starts to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kids’ sense of self worth and identity.

But were we evolved to be aware of what 10,000 people think of us? We were not evolved to have social approval being dosed to us every five minutes. That is not at all what we were built to experience.

We get rewarded in these short-term signals – hearts, Likes, thumbs up – and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity, that’s short-term and that leaves you even more – and admit it – vacant and empty than before you did it. Because then it forces you into this vicious cycle where you’re like what’s the next thing I need to do now, because I need it back. Thinks about that compounded by two billion people, and then think about how people react to the perceptions of others. It’s really bad. It’s really, really bad.

There has been a giant increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers which began between 2011 and 2013. The number of teenage girls out of 100,000 in this country who are admitted to a hospital every year because they cut themselves or otherwise harmed themselves. That number was pretty stable until around 2010, 2011, and then it begins going way up. It’s up 62% for older teen girls. It’s up 189% for the preteen girls. That’s nearly triple.

Even more horrifying, we see the same pattern with suicide. The older teen girls are up 70%… The preteen girls … are up 151%. And that pattern points to Social Media.

A whole generation is more anxious, more fragile, more depressed. They are much less comfortable taking risks. The rates at which they get drivers licenses has been dropping. The number who have ever gone out on a date or had any kind of romantic interaction is dropping rapidly. This is a real change in a generation.

We used to have these protections … we cared about protecting children. … All those protections and all those regulations are gone.

We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that, when we are uncomfortable, or lonely, or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.

The takeaways:

Where to start on this one?

Taking over senses of self-worth and identity?

Increases in depression and anxiety?

Increases in suicide?

Raising an entire generation “within a context where the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation”?

These are the things that happen to kids in the Matrix.

This is the kind of damage being done to children exposed to Social Media and big tech.

Truly, the children are our future.

What will be the ultimate cost of allowing them to live within the Matrix?

To us?

To them?

To our culture?

To our future?

To their future?

To their very lives?

The Matrix is Destroying Objective Truth

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

One of the ways I try to get people to understand just how wrong feeds from places like Facebook are is to think about Wikipedia. When you go to a page, you’re seeing the same things as other people. So it’s one of the few things online that we at least hold in common. Now just imagine for a second that Wikipedia said we’re going to give each person a different customized definition, and we’re going to be paid by people for that. … Can you imagine that? Well, you should be able to imagine that, because that’s exactly what is happening on Facebook. It’s exactly what’s happening in your YouTube feed.

When you go to Google and type in “Climate change is,” you’re  going to see different results depending on where you live. … And that’s a function not of what the truth is about climate change, but where you happen to be Googling from, and the particular things Google knows about your interests.

They see completely different worlds, because they’re based on these computers calculating what’s perfect for each of them.

The way to think about this is 2.7 billion Truman Shows. Each person has their own reality, with their own facts.

We all simply are operating on a different set of facts. When that happens at scale, you’re no longer able to reckon with or even consume information that contradicts with that worldview that you have created. That means we aren’t actually being objective, constructive individuals.

And then you look over at the other side. And you start to think, “How can those people be so stupid?” Look at all this information that I’m constantly seeing; how are they not seeing that same information?” And the answer is, they are not seeing that same information.

It worries me that an algorithm that I actually worked on is increasing polarization in society. But from the point of view of watch time, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online.

The flat earth conspiracy theory was recommended hundreds of millions of times by the algorithm. It’s easy to think that it’s just a few stupid people who get convinced. But the algorithm is getting smarter and smarter every day. So, today, they are convincing people that the earth is flat. But tomorrow they will be convincing you of something that is false.

There was a study, an MIT study, that fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than true news. What’s that world going to look like when one has a six times advantage to the other one?

We’ve created a system that biases toward false information. Not because we want to, but because false information makes the companies more money than the truth. The truth is boring.

It’s a disinformation for profit business model. You make money the more you allow unregulated messages to reach anyone for the best price.

Social media amplifies exponential gossip and exponential hearsay to the point where we don’t know what’s true, no matter what issue we care about.

The takeaways:

If you’re looking for a succinct summary of “how we got here” in terms the overall unprecedented levels of political division, discord, rancor, social upheaval, rioting, looting, arson, attacks on law enforcement, the defunding of the police, the disbanding of the police, etc., stop and re-read the quotes immediately above.

When we step into the Matrix, we willingly:

– Expose ourselves to false information and misinformation.

– Enable a “disinformation for profit” business model.

– Allow ourselves to be further polarized.

– Immerse ourselves in a flow of information that, collectively, is six times more likely to find its way into our newsfeed if it’s false than if it’s true.

– Submit to psychological programming that will likely to cause us to have even more animus toward those who think differently that we do.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything good in that list; do you?

And the end result of all that is the impairment, or the outright destruction, of objective truth.

That begs this questions: What happens if we can’t agree on something that should be as simple as objective truth?

As Sam Harris said in his incredible podcast Can We Pull Back from the Brink:

“And this is really unhealthy — not just for individuals, but for society. Because, again, all we have between us and the total breakdown of civilization is a series of successful conversations. If we can’t reason with one another, there is no path forward, other than violence. Conversation or violence.”

Conversation or violence.

Those truly are our only options.

To which of those ends do you think the Matrix contributes the most?

The Matrix is Selling Democracies to the Highest Bidder

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

One of the problems with Facebook is that, as a tool of persuasion, it may be the greatest thing every created. Now imagine what that means in the hands of a dictator or an authoritarian. If you want to control a population of your country, there has never been a tool as effective as Facebook.

It’s not that highly motivated propagandists haven’t existed before, it’s that the platforms make it possible to spread manipulative narratives with phenomenal ease, and without very much money.

Algorithms and manipulative politicians are becoming so expert at learning how to trigger us, and getting so good at creating fake news that we absorb as if it were reality, and into confusing us to believing those lies, it’s as though we have less and less control over who we are and what we really believe.

Imagine a world where no believes anything that’s true. Everyone believes the government is lying to them, everything is a conspiracy theory, I shouldn’t trust anyone, I hate the other side. That’s where this is heading.

What does it look like to be a country thats entire diet is Facebook and Social Media? Democracy crumbled quickly. Six months.

What we’re seeing is a global assault on democracy. Most of the countries that are targeted are countries that run democratic elections.

This is happening at scale. By state actors, by people with millions of dollars, saying I want to destabilize Kenya, I want to destabilize Cameroon, oh, Angola? That only costs this much.

We in the tech industry have created the tools to destabilize and erode the fabric of society in every country all at once everywhere.

It’s like remote control warfare. One country can manipulate another one without actually invading its physical borders.

It wasn’t about who you wanted to vote for. It was about sowing total chaos and division in society. It’s about making two sides who couldn’t hear each other any more, who didn’t want to hear each other any more and who didn’t trust each other any more.

Do we want this system for sale to the highest bidder? For democracy to be completely for sale where you can reach any mind you want, target a lie to that specific population and create culture wars? Do we want that?

The takeaways:

Facebook as the most effective tool ever in terms of population control?

Spreading manipulative narratives with phenomenal ease?

Creating a world in which the actual truth is no longer believed?

Having the ability to destabilize entire countries?

Having the tools to destabilize and erode the fabric of society in every country all at once everywhere?

Sowing total chaos and division in society?

Remote control warfare?

Crumbling democracy inside of six months?

Sounds fantastic!

Where do I sign up?

Of course, that’s pure sarcasm.

Because, if I stop and seriously consider the implications of all of this, I might lose my mind.

But these are things that are really happening.

And they are happening as a direct result of the existence of the Matrix, and its toxic influence on the masses.

The Matrix is Destroying Civilization

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

I think the tools that have been created today are starting to erode the social fabric of how society works.

Tribalism is ruining us. It is tearing our country apart. It is no way for sane adults to act.

If everyone is entitled to their own facts, there’s really no need for compromise, there’s no need for people to come together, in fact, there’s no need for people to interact. We need to have some shared understanding of reality. Otherwise, we aren’t a country.

If we don’t agree on what is true, or that there is such a thing as truth, we’re toast. This is the problem beneath other problems. If we can’t agree on what’s true, then we can’t navigate out of any of our problems.

It’s not about the technology being the existential threat. It’s the technology’s ability to bring out the worst in society, and the worst in society being the existential threat.

If technology creates mass chaos, outrage, instability, lack of trust in each other, loneliness, alienation, more polarization, more election hacking, more populism, more distraction and inability to focus on the real issues, that’s just society. And now society is incapable of healing itself, and just devolving into a kind of chaos.

This affects everyone, even if you don’t use these products. These things have become digital frankensteins that are terraforming the world in their image whether it’s the mental health of children or our politics and our political discourse without taking responsibility for taking over the public squares.

If we go down current status quo, for let’s say another 20 years, we probably destroy our civilization through willfull ignorance. … We probably degrade the world’s democracies so that they fall into some sort of bizarre autocratic dysfunction. We probably ruin the global economy. We probably don’t survive. I really do view it as existential.

[What are you most worried about?] I think in the shortest time horizon, civil war.

The takeaways:

I have nothing to add to the collective warning these quotes deliver.

They speak for themselves.

As America deals with the largest level of political discord I’ve experienced in my lifetime (and I am not young), all you have to do is turn on the news or pick up a paper to see how dangerously close this once unified nation is to complete chaos.

Rioting, looting, arson, attacks on innocent people, the literal execution of those wearing the wrong team’s colors, etc.

These have become sadly common occurrences in recent months.

And all of that has been fueled by our participation in the Matrix.

The Matrix is an Entirely New Thing

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

Never before in history have 50 designers, 20-35 year old white guys, in California, made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people. Two billion people will have thoughts that they didn’t intend to have because a designer at Google said this is how notifications work on that screen you wake up to in the morning.

There is this narrative, that we’ll just adapt to it. We’ll learn how to live with these devices, just like we’ve learned how to live with everything else. And what this misses is that there is something distinctly new here.

You’re living inside a hardware – a brain – that’s millions of years old. And then there’s this screen, and then on the opposite side of the screen are these thousands of engineers and these super computers that have goals that are different than your goals, and so, who’s going to win in that game? Who’s going to win?

All this data that we’re just pouring out, all the time, is being fed into these systems that have almost no human supervision, and that are making better and better and better and better predictions, about what we’re going to do and who we are.

You’re giving the computer the goal state – I want this outcome – and the computer itself is learning how to do it. That’s where the term “machine learning” comes from. And so, every day it gets slightly better at picking the right posts in the right order so that you spend longer and longer in that product. And no one really understands what they’re doing in order to achieve that goal.

The algorithm has a mind of its own. So, even though a person writes it, it’s written in a way so that you kind of build the machine, and then the machine changes itself.

As humans, we’ve almost lost control over these systems. Because they’re controlling the information that we see, they’re controlling us more than we’re controlling them.

Perhaps the most dangerous piece of all this is fact that it is driven by technology that is advancing exponentially. Roughly from the 1960s to today, processing power has gone up about a trillion times. Nothing else that we have has improved at anything near that rate. … And perhaps most importantly, our human, our physiology, our brains, have evolved not at all.

This is a new kind of marketplace now. It’s a marketplace that never existed before. And it’s a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.

And those markets have produced the trillions of dollars that have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity.

This is a totally new species of power and influence.

We’re all looking out for the moment when technology would overwhelm human strengths and intelligence. When is it going to cross the singularity, replace our jobs and be smarter than humans. But there’s this much earlier moment when technology exceeds and overwhelms human weaknesses. This point being crossed is at the root of addiction, polarization, radicalization, outragification, vanityfication, the entire thing. This is overpowering human nature, and this is checkmate on humanity.

The takeaways:

One of the things that hit me the hardest from watching The Social Dilemma was the fact that the effects of the Matrix really are, for the most part, entirely unprecedented.

These are not variations of things that came before.

These are entirely new animals, at least in terms of their having the ability to change and impact our actions, our thinking, our behavior and our psychology.

To change and impact our culture, our country, and our world.

Many of the component pieces of the Matrix (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) are social in nature. They are places where we meet with old friends, and make new ones. These are places we look to for fun, for relaxation and for entertainment.

Ergo, they are the perfect “wolves in sheep’s clothing” mechanisms that have been leveraged brilliantly to pull us in, hook us, addict us, and then exploit us.

Exactly as has happened to millions (billions?) already.

Further, the Matrix is being driven by the most powerful technology ever created – which has increased in processing power a trillion times in the last 40 years – and the wealthiest, most powerful corporate entities in the history of the world.

Because these are entirely different animals – by virtue of their social nature, their cultivated expertise at psychological and emotional manipulation, their raw processing power advantage, and their extreme wealth – and because we have no prior experience in terms of dealing with them effectively, many lack the ability to see them for what they are: dangerous.

Dangerous to us, our children, our culture, our nation and our world.

The Matrix Isn’t Going Anywhere

Key Quotes from The Social Dilemma:

You can’t in practice put the genie back in the bottle.

What I see is a bunch of people who are trapped by a business model, an economic incentive and shareholder pressure that make in almost impossible to do something else.

Are we always going to defer to the richest, most powerful people? Are we ever going to say, “You know, there are times when there is a national interest. There are times when the interests of people, of users, is actually more important than the profits of somebody who is already a billionaires.”

These markets undermine democracy, and they undermine freedom, and they should be outlawed. This is not a radical proposal. Other markets have been outlawed. … Because they have inevitable destructive consequences.

What’s not OK is when there is no regulation, no rules and no competition and the companies are acting as sort of de facto governments, and then they’re saying, “We can regulate ourselves.” I mean that’s just a lie, that’s ridiculous.

The fabric of a healthy society depends on us getting off this corrosive business model.

I feel like we’re on the fast track to dystopia, and it’s going to take a miracle to get us out of it.

At the end of the day, this machine isn’t going to turn around until there is massive public pressure.

I don’t want to do any harm to Google or Facebook. I just want to reform them so they don’t destroy the world.

The takeaways:

The Matrix is alive and well.

It’s not going ANYWHERE.

Further, Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook (which owns Instagram) are two of the richest and most successful companies in world history.

Why would they change, given their track records?

If I was appointed CEO of either of those companies, I would say, “Keep on doing whatever it is that you’re been doing, because it’s working.”

The goal of the Matrix is PROFIT.

And when profits are enhanced by the spreading of misinformation, by increases in polarization, by the creation of incremental division, and by the destruction of democracies, we get exactly what we’re experiencing today.

As I quoted Tristan Harris at the start of this post, When you look around you, it feels like the world is going crazy. You have to ask yourself: Is this normal, or have we all fallen under some kind of spell?”

Yes, Tristan, we have fallen under some kind of spell: the spell of the Matrix.

And it’s not going anywhere.

So, if change is going to happen, we have to initiate it.

[Note: Just as this post was being finished and prepared for publication, the CEOs of several of the largest component pieces of the Matrix – Facebook and Twitter – were being sought by the United States Senate to testify and discuss “alleged censorship of political news.” While the outcome of this story is not yet known, it is conceivable that Congress could take action – perhaps in the form of the application of Antitrust Law as outlined in the Sherman Act – that would force members of the Matrix to altar their practices. That said, Congress heretofore has been reluctant to take any such actions, and, personally, I don’t believe they’ll do anything of significance at this juncture. ]

Will We Wake Up in Time?

Most of us – and, make no mistake, that absolutely includes me – spend large chunks online, immersed in the Matrix.

Being completely candid, I believe I am personally addicted to Facebook, and, before that, I was certainly addicted to Twitter.

In my first year on Twitter – way back in 2009 – I averaged something like 42 Tweets per day.

I can waste two hours on Instagram at 3:13 AM on a Tuesday and not even realize it.

I’ve been a massive user of Google for many years. I even designed a digital course on how to use Google Drive within a specific business context.

And even though I understand and believe the challenges, risks and dangers associated with my continued usage of the Matrix are very real, and potentially detrimental to me and my life, I am finding it hard to break free of the siren call of the Matrix that never stops whispering my name.

So, if you read this, and thought, “Wow, this is all worse than I realized; I really should rethink my involvement in the Matrix before it’s too late,” and you then went right back to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram without any hesitation whatsoever, I GET IT.

I really do.

The people who created the Matrix have done a brilliant job of drawing us in.

Of hooking us.

Of manipulating us.

Of addicting us.

Of exploiting us.

Of changing us.

Of selling us to the highest bidder.

The future – of pretty much everything – may depend on how we collectively respond to the nine big takeaways of The Social Dilemma.

Will we continue to kick the can down the road and live as if none of these risks exist?

The alarm clock is ringing.

The emergency broadcast signal is droning on.

How will you respond?

Will I ever wake up?

Will you ever wake up?

Will we ever wake up?

Will we wake up … before the collective damage resulting from our infatuation with the Matrix goes too far and become irreversible?