A good relationship is built on trust. The trust in turn allows for autonomy. And with autonomy comes personal growth. Many of the relationships we have with software and algorithms are indeed full of trust. I don’t have to remind you of all the trust you put in Gmail to send your correspondence, iCloud to secure your precious photos, or Amazon to take care of your purchases.
In fact, I would say we put an uncanny amount of trust in digital technologies.
The problem, though, is that our trustworthy relationships aren’t empowering autonomy. It’s breeding dependence. We’re becoming extremely reliant in a very unhealthy, dangerous way. And massive problems will arise in two forms.
When you lose trust in something you’re autonomous from, you cut ties and go your separate ways. However, when you’re dependant on that thing and it loses your trust, you’re put in a very difficult decision. You can’t just walk away.
As more distrust of Big Tech is brooding, we’re overlooking how many different relationships we have with Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Google alone, I have 7 different relationships: Search, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, YouTube Music, Calendar, Google Drive.
Yet, we tend to group their actions under the entire “How I feel about Google umbrella”, instead of thinking about individual relationships. This is equivalent to holding your entire family responsible for a hurtful comment your cousin said.
The problems arise when, say, Facebook Advertising mishandles consumer data and #DeleteFacebook becomes a huge thing. People quickly realize that they can’t quit Facebook without quitting all relationships with them. The Facebook Login API alone is their credentials to sign into so many places on the Internet – Uber, Spotify, Airbnb. And in some cases (like Bumble) a Facebook account is required to log in.
The technology behemoths have too many separate divisions solving completely different problems in our lives for us to blanket everything they do into one relationship. We must learn to think of these companies in various arms.
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Losing an Arm
When we break our relationships with companies into different arms, we can start to diagnose each relationship on its own. This makes it easier to determine which of those relationships are empowering autonomy and which are breeding dependence.
I relate this to the four limbs of my body. As a right-handed individual, losing my right arm would leave me absolutely immobilized. It’s about as dependent as I am on anything in my life. My two legs, well, working at a desk all day, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t have them. In a way, they are there to bring more autonomy to my life. My left arm is somewhere in between the autonomy of my legs and the dependence on my right arm.
Obviously, I don’t want to lose any limbs, but knowing the value in each limb helps me put the relationship into perspective.
Back to technology which are basically new limbs. Many salesmen would struggle to maintain order in their sales process without Salesforce. Ask a teenager to imagine life without Snapchat and they’d shriek.
But, I would still say these fall in the “left arm” category. We’re not entirely dependent. We can exist without them, but they definitely aren’t promoting the improvement of human skills.
However, what happens when Google Maps is discontinued or goes down for a day. Or what about your TurboTax account. You’ll quickly realize that these relationships are of complete dependence. They are technologies that have brought efficiency without any human improvement.
We should be looking for more technology that promotes greater efficiency or effectiveness – but does so by making you more autonomous and improving your human abilities.
Do these even exist? Yes, but they are definitely hard to come by.
Grammarly, which is an app that suggests and corrects grammar mistakes, you’d think would create a dependence. But in all honesty, seeing myself make the same mistakes over and over, trained me to change my behaviors. Maybe not everyone has had this same experience. For me, though, it’s promoted autonomy by helping me confidently write.
Recently, Google discontinued the Inbox App, which was a very popular email interface because of its functional simplicity. It was a technology that promoted autonomy because it organized the work from the distractions and allowed people to quickly put their work/life balance into view. This is why the founder of Inbox created a Chrome extension to bring this technology back to email users.
As more and more technophiles create services that make our lives easier, it’s important we create separation in our layers of trust and to recognize which technology is creating autonomy versus which is creating dependence. From there, it’s up to you whether you decide to embrace your life as a cyborg or find ways to improve your human self.