Ruled by Rectangles
You know you’re embedded in the Digital Age when you’re typing your anxieties into the Woebot app to get free, anonymous CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). It’s Digital Age anxiety we’re all cringing at in the movie Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s heart-breaking comedy about a nervous, shy 13-year-old, beset by FOMO, clutching her iPhone under her pillow through the night. You’re waking up in the Digital Age when you realize that Lyft and Uber taxi rates don’t work half as well for the drivers as for the passenger class. You’re getting sick of the Digital Age when you don’t go to the dating apps; they come to you and lead the dance. You might be stuck in the Digital Age when you notice you haven’t been out of the house all week.
Digital distemper has been the trend through 2018. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg looked like presidential timber early last year, at age 33, “connecting the world, giving everyone a voice,” and dropping in on every state in the Union. Today he looks like a piñata in our Congress—in Britain’s parliament, too. But it’s not all about poor Zuck, or even Facebook’s cutthroat business practices, or the major mischief of Russian trolls, hacking our politics on line. Maybe it’s the inhuman speed of the tech, the sudden size of five digital monsters: F.A.N.G.A., Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google, Amazon. Maybe, it’s the infiltration of language, psychology work, family, everything—the intrusiveness of it all. People say they don’t use apps now as much as apps use them. Turn off a new car engine, and the screen says: “Goodbye!” Hello?
Professor of Communication at Stanford University
Writer, academic, and cofounder of Logic Magazine
Writer and cofounder of Logic Magazine
Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas