Has technology made us more independent?

Technically Incorrect: As Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have risen to become dominant forces, have Americans become more their true, free selves?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Enlarge Image

Has tech made us the Land Of The Freer?


As the British celebrate their independence from the French and Germans, and we celebrate our independence from the British, I wonder about technology.

Has it made us more independent?

Has the rise of Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and friends made us all wake up in the morning and ululate with freedom at the choices placed in front of us?

Those who proclaim their independence feel they have thrown off their shackles in order to lower their hackles.

They are now truly themselves, masters of their own journeys, free to be whoever they want to be.

Yet we now seem angrier than we have for some time.

Tech companies, insisting they've made the world a better place, tell us they're letting us be free. Which is nice of them.

It is, though, a curious independence.

Every day on a gadget connected to the web, we're being offered a million versions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We can have them all. At least that's how it seems.

And what do we do?

We claim to have 500 friends when we really have but three or four. We lurch onto Twitter to root out people who don't have the same views as ours and tell them that they're a moron/fascist/idiot (delete as appropriate).

It's glorious and odious in the same breath.

Those who have given us this new freedom don't do so without making certain demands.

They insist that we allow them to record every step we take, every move we make.

They tell us that this is only so that they can serve us better. Serve us "better" ads that we'll adore, that is.

Facebook tells us that by partaking of its free services we're now part of a "community." One in which Facebook sets the rules.

Don't you dare show those breasts, madam.

Can tech companies even agree on what independence really means?

For Apple, it seems to involve a large dollop of privacy.

Some of the others prefer to pay lip service to that idea and couching their true intentions in ideas such as open access and "sharing." (Until that means sharing anything about the CEO's life, that is.)

Some have made it far easier for governments to know far more about us than we'd prefer.

Does this feel like greater independence? Or does independence always have a price?

Do you feel more independent because you can order dinner, buy a lamé mini-dress or abuse someone just by poking at a phone screen?

Or is there a nagging sense that, despite your freedom, you're trapped inside an oddly insidious system?

You're hooked on your phone, your Facebook account, your need to take selfies.

You need to go to Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter to express in an instant who you really are.

You even use your gadgets in order to avoid people.

Is this independence? Or is it a new narcotic social club whose all-enveloping haze prevents you from ever seeing an exit door?

Even when you're on top of a mountain, considering the beauty of the world and the meaning of existence, Apple encourages you to take a picture of it and Facebook insists you post it to its world-enveloping site.

Because your friends need to know what you're doing, don't they? How could you let them down?

If independence has a heart, it surely involves the ability to choose one's own fate. Which criteria, though, do we use to make those choices? Our own? Or those kindly handed to us by the new technological system?

Technology offers many new choices. But it wants to take away your ability to drive and even, one day perhaps, to be what you know now as human. It's for your own good, you understand.

Perhaps one definition of our tech-driven independence is freedom from a dependence on others.

Is it any wonder that quite a few in tech support libertarian values?

Yet as they champion individual autonomy over the alleged coercion of social institutions, perhaps they don't see that the new social institutions are the very tech companies they run. Or perhaps they do.

You can check out any time you like. But you don't, do you?

There's one area where technology has surely encouraged a truer and more heartening personal freedom.

According to Gallup, a record 42 percent of Americans now identify as politically independent.

That's a start, isn't it?