The Great Disabler

Technology is meant to be a tool to enable us. To a tool-using species, tools are meant to fade into the background, to disappear and become extensions of our minds. But our technology often seems to be very insistent that it stays in the forefront of our attention. Worse, it often disobeys us, places restrictions upon us, or acts in ways that subtly disrespect or disempower us. Why?

Modern technology is less like a tool and more like an agent. An agent acts on your behalf, but it does not exist merely to serve you. It has its own values, its own interests, and there is no guarantee that those interests align with yours. In fact, most modern technology exists primarily to enrich the companies that created it. To some extent, that has always been true, but tools were too dumb to continue enriching their creators once they left the factory and entered your home. Modern technology has no such limitations, and unabashedly carries out its own agenda even while in your possession.

The resources of human attention, human interest, and human action are very valuable, and the your technology requires those resources to achieve its goals. However, you also want those resources for your goals, and this creates a conflict that your technology, smart as it is, would easily lose. To win, it must fight dirty, exploiting quirks in your psyche to subvert your interests. That's why it has to be in the foreground. That's why it has to disobey you. That's why it has to distract you. It must weaken you enough to extract your resources. Technology is still a tool, but it is not your tool; it is someone else's tool being used on you. You are not the ploughman, but the ox, and it is your yoke.

Technology has been called the great enabler. But who is it enabling and what is it enabling them to do? If it is not your agent, it is not enabling you. If it enables others to subvert your intentions, then it is, in fact, disabling you. This is the sorry state of modern technology: the great disabler. Humanity's most sophisticated Trojan Horse. A gift that ostensibly makes us greater while it compromises us from within.