Flying Around the Virtual Cage: Exploring lockdown

The movie, The Corporation, partly explores the metaphor of a large business as being, well, a “being”. Some of the commentators in this documentary film characterise that being as a psychological entity that shows signs of psychosis. Big business does not come off well in this film, and it isn’t my intention to bash big business here.

But let’s just pursue that metaphor for a moment. Let’s view big businesses as bearing a resemblance to people. Big businesses, just like people, set goals, have needs, have a past, present and a future, can be insecure amongst those around them, can employ “strategies” such as attack, defence, competition, or collaboration. Big businesses can get sick and need to recover, either through problem from within, or pressurising the survival and health from outside. Businesses want to thrive in the long run. A lot like people.

Simplistic yes, but let’s run with the metaphor a bit further.

Businesses can be “big”, more powerful than smaller businesses. They can pressurise, dominate, even bully. And they can threaten, manipulate and create dependency. They can also be friendly, kind, ethical and protect the rights of those around them.

But at the heart of the most big corporations is one strong urge – to maximise profit. Big corporations have a will, and this will is usually embodied as shareholders who want to maximise the return on their investment. They want dividends. They want to be able to sell at the highest price. In many cases this can force a shorter term greed into the heart of the business “being”. In order for that will to prevail, the corporation becomes obsessed with influence, power and control. It wants to predict how people will behave in relation to it and, ideally, control that behaviour.

This is where “lockdown” comes into the world of mobile technologies and social media platforms. Freedom becomes an instrumental thing to the control-obsessed corporation. Empowerment and creativity are tools that ultimately must lock customers into predictable and repeatable behaviours so that control can be maximised. The terms and conditions become everything. If you are posting photographs, you sign some of your rights to their use away. If you are a writer, you can publish your book on an online publishing platform, but the rights to where that book then gets sold (say, as a physical, paper-made book) no longer fully rest with you. You can have an inbox and a “home page” but it must look vanilla and be determined largely by the corporation. You can leave, but it will not be easy to. You can enjoy the platform, but it will have developed in you addictive tendencies in order to “keep you”. You can have options but these are tightly prescribed and proscribed by the controlling power, the corporation. Freedom becomes defined as the amount of space you have to move around the locked cage.

The business, with a controlling urge at its heart, is only behaving according to its nature. It needs to control you. And its a compelling “deal” that it offers you. Technologies are becoming more graceful, attractive, enjoyable, and the cage bars are appearing to flex and bend a bit. But the deal is that you stay inside the cage. Lockdown is usually a voluntary act at the start.  If you enjoy the benefits of the deal and feel no problem with it, then good luck to you, and go ahead and enjoy the deal. If you feel the price is too high, then its time to find the key to the cage.

And here’s one way to do it.

It involves seeing yourself as being possessed by your gadgets and platforms. Yes, I mean it: possessed. Hypnotised. Overshadowed. Let’s just pretend for a moment and work with those metaphors. The being that is the corporation is now in your head, your heart and your will. It is moving inside you and is even able to overshadow your thoughts, influence your emotional responses, and even direct your fingers and even feet. It can turn your head, make you smile, and, if it suits it, turn a usually kind you into a harsh, cold insulter of friends and family. It can make you kiss when you don’t really want to. And IT decides when you will answer the phone, check your inbox, or even poke someone. It leaves you with just enough will in the present to believe you are the master of your actions but, in reality, you are locked into a predictable and even predicted set of patterns and behaviours from the moment you wake up to the moment you delay your sleep to check your twitter stream in bed.

To deal with the possession, you’ll need an exorcism. You’ll need to de-trance, break out of the hypnotic state.  I’m serious. It could scar you for life, or it might be easy. First you’ll have to name it as possession and separate a part of yourself off from the possessed behaviour. You’ll have to look at yourself. It really is possible. You’ll have to create some separation from the you that is watching and the you at is slavishly doing. You’ll have to watch your habitual impulses and start to say “no” to them. You’ll have to see the possessive behaviours and WANT to move them outside of yourself. You’ll need to reclaim your will back. You might need to call yourself by your real name and own up: I am an addict. You might have to choose to become intolerant of the comfort zone you are now stuck in. You might need the help of friends and loved ones. You’ll need to make each act of using the gadgets more conscious and considered. And most of all, you’ll find it is better done with  a kind of gentleness. Because you’ll fail and revert back to old ways. Then slowly, if you persevere, you’ll find some of the energy that the controlling corporation has stolen, starts to come back to you and it will get easier.

Simple things can act as a trip wire to this dominating and controlling force. Choose an hour here or there where the control is absent. A walk in the woods or the park WITHOUT your mobile device. And also, when you feel the “urge” inside you, an urge that, if you look at it honestly, isn’t your own authentic urge at all but an implanted urge, look at that urge and gently move it away, outside of yourself and say, “No, not right now”.

You might need to give it up completely, or you might create an exorcising routine, a kind of ritual where you only use the device or check in to the platform at a certain time of day; the key thing is that it is willed by you, chosen by you and, occasionally, even at random, change the routine sometimes just to shake it out of turning into another pattern.

You might choose to love it into leaving you. Don’t see the control as cynical or damaging; just see it as unneeded and push it away gentle or, by ignoring the urge, starve it of attention. The best form of control is to take control of it yourself and keep it in YOUR cage. But remember, the corporation is always larger than you, the possessing force may be able to overshadow you when it pleases unless there is a very strong and conscious will that truly belongs to you. If you have an addictive nature, don’t kid yourself that you can handle it if you can’t.

The lock down looks like this: you can’t stay off it even if you want to, not for any length of time. You always return to it. You can’t go an hour without looking at it. You interrupt real tactile interactions in favour of vibrating phones, alerts and things that really can wait. You feel a need to be “always connected, always on” and you are now agitated when not in this state. You are spending small amounts of money on things you don’t really need – nearly always on reflection, looking back, you feel less enthusiastic afterwards than the “thrill” or “high point” at the time that led you to spending the money. Your meal times, rest times, and relax times are now integrated with checking in to your gadgets. You hold your gadgets close to your stomach in pockets – it feels better there, more reassuring. You’ve become almost obsessed with always having enough battery power or credit – you always need to be topped up. Your day is increasingly becoming more virtual and less tactile and physical. But the key aspect of all of this is this: You live inside a cage, and have now defined freedom in terms of the cage, and even when you manage to get out, you keep breaking back inside the cage.

Name it. Confront it. Cast it out. You need to be the one in control. Businesses are supposed to be about service. But if it is you who are the slave, who is really serving who?

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on January 23, 2012, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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