Virtual Reality pioneer Jaron Lanier with a prototype VR kit in 1990. Photograph: Rex Features
In a new explosive interview, Silicon Valley tech pioneer and creator of the virtual reality 'avatar' Jaron Lanier tells people to delete your social media accounts due to the strong correlation between persistent social media usage and a dramatic societal rise in depression, anger, and anxiety that he says is the result of internet-induced modified forms of behavior.
The warning comes in the wake of his new book which details how the creators of social media and the early engineers behind the internet "foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies."
Jaron Lanier is best known as a founding father of the field of virtual reality and throughout his polymath career has written extensively on human-computer interaction, including most recently in his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.
Lanier explained in a recent UK Channel 4 interview:
When you watch the television the television isn't watching you. When you see the billboard the billboard isn't seeing you... When you use these new designs — social media, search, YouTube — when you see these things, you're being observed constantly and algorithms are taking that information and changing what you see next.
According to Lanier's bio, he coined the term 'Virtual Reality' (VR) and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products. In the late 1980s he led the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays, as well as the first "avatars," and developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications.
As he defiantly asserts on his personal website, Lanier himself has "no social media accounts at all and all purported ones are fake."
He's elsewhere said that most internet and social media pioneers in Silicon Valley "have regrets right now" after perfecting what is essentially mass human behavioral engineering and that that internet addiction is not only ruining people's lives but the political process as well.
This is what I could call almost a stealthy addiction. It's a statistical addiction.
What it says is we will get the broad population to use the services a lot, we'll get them hooked through a scheme of rewards and punishment, and the rewards are when you're retweeted and the punishment is when you're treated badly by others online, and then within that we'll very gradually start to leverage that, to change them.
It's this very kind of stealthy manipulation of the population. -Jaron Lanier to Channel 4
Lanier described this process of manipulation more in-depth in his book, where he puts it like this: “The algorithm is trying to capture the perfect parameters for manipulating a brain, while the brain, in order to seek out deeper meaning, is changing in response to the algorithm’s experiments…Because the stimuli from the algorithm doesn’t mean anything, because they genuinely are random, the brain isn’t responding to anything real, but to a fiction. That process – of becoming hooked on an elusive mirage – is addiction.”
Of the nature of this addiction he described further to Channel 4:
So it's not as dramatic as a heroin addict or a gambling addict, but it is the same principle.
...It's made people jittery and cranky, it's made teens especially depressed, which can be quite severe.
The scariest example is a correlation between rises in teen suicide and the rise in use of social media.
Concerning practical advice especially to young people who've grown up within a digital and device driven world:
If you're a young person and you've only lived with social media, your first duty is to yourself. You have to know yourself.
You should experience travel, you should experience challenge to yourself... you can't know yourself without perspective,so at least give it six months without social media.
And among the more worrisome results of this process for society as a whole?
Though as Lanier explains in his book the internet was not established with built-in monetized functions, the potential of the architecture to be used wrongly for "global monopolies" whether political or economic has proven explosive: “Everyone knew these functions … would be needed. We figured it would be wiser to let entrepreneurs fill in the blanks than to leave that task to government … We foolishly laid the foundations for global monopolies.”
View the full interview below:
Jaron Lanier's Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now according to his book:
1) You are losing your free will.
2) Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.
3) Social media is making you an asshole.
4) Social media is underming truth.
5) Social media is making what you say meaningless.
6) Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.
7) Social media is making you unhappy.
8) Social media doesn't want you to have economic dignity.
9) Social media is making politics impossible.
10) Social media hates your soul.