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Everything is a Casino

I know it makes me sound like an old man crank, but there is a growing awareness of how much the mobile internet has changed us.

The power of the media and advertising began with the penny press, and has only continued with radio, television, the internet, mobile devices, and big data. The depressing idea is that our schools are arcades, and our phones are distraction monsters. With lights, tappable buttons, and gaming currencies, they are the new casino where you can whittle away the hours without actually doing anything at all. The money spent in in-app purchases is, like casino chips, seemingly fake but in the end it is real. Beyond the actual money there is your time, attention, and data, which are also real and valuable; in truth, time may be the most valuable currency you have because it cannot be stored or saved.

For Cal Newport and his Digital Minimalism book, we are in a new phase in human existence. We can completely banish human thoughts and boredom, but we are losing our humanity. The TV show Black Mirror questions this reality as well. The "black mirror" is the glass of the cell phone and technology itself, which amplifies our worst instincts. Like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Black Mirror tries to use television to question the medium itself, but aiming for thoughtful entertainment still leaves one being entertained in the end.

Alan Moore's The Light of Thy Countenance is a chilling exploration of the Biblical phrase "the light of thy countenance" that appears repeatedly in the KJV (Psalm 4:6, 44:3, 89:15). For Moore it is the television set that is the the divine countenance:

My sacred codex is the TV Guide … You sit at night there on the couch beside your partner yet have eyes only for me.… Look up from your page, printed and therefore obsolete, to where my cyclops idol squats there in the corner like big Buddha, watching you. One mind in me, one life in me, autistic in Elysian.

For Newport, there needs to be a way of measuring, valuing, and resisting. Just as we have re-thought our relationship to food, we need to re-think our relationship to the devices in our lives; both are endlessly and unhealthily addictive. Newport observes how people choose some sort of physical diet: "Maybe they're vegan or paleo. These named philosophies emerged as a response to, 'There's a real health issue, and the forces behind it are too strong for just good intentions and advice to solve it.'"

The reality is we need a mental and attention diet as well. Do you honestly want to look at ads all day, and find everything you've done is a binary digit on a server somewhere far away? In a time of powerfully manipulative objects, materials, data, and psychologies, it requires a careful code and focus to resist.

Whether it's paleo or no email at night, everyone needs "to have a code" says Omar In The Wire..

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