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Is Social Media the New Tobacco?

Social problems arise when initially harmless addictions explode in popularity, and economic problems arise when the long-term costs of the addictions start adding up. Political problems arise when the addictions are so immensely profitable that the companies skimming the profits can buy political influence to protect their toxic products from scrutiny and regulation.

That describes both the tobacco industry before its political protection was stripped away and social media today, as the social media giants hasten to buy political influence to protect their immensely profitable monopolies from scrutiny and regulation.

It’s difficult to measure the full costs of addictions because our system focuses on price discovery at the point of purchase, meaning that absent any regulatory measuring of long-term consequences, the cost of a pack of cigarettes is based not on the long-term costs but solely on the cost of producing and packaging the tobacco into cigarettes, and the enterprise side: marketing, overhead and profit.

(I address the consequences of what we don’t measure in my latest book, Will You Be Richer or Poorer?)

To take tobacco as an example, the full costs of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years is not limited to the cost of the cigarettes: 365 days/year X 20 years X 2 packs (14,600) X cost per pack ($5 each) $73,000.

The full costs might total over $1 million in treatments for lung cancer and heart disease, and the reduction in life span and productivity of the smoker. (The emotional losses of those who lose a loved one to a painful early death is difficult to assign an economic value but it is very real.)

If the full costs of the nicotine addiction were included at the point of purchase, each pack of cigarettes would cost about $70 ($1,000,000 / 14,600). Very few people could afford a habit that costs $140 per day ($51,000 per year).

What are the full costs of the current addiction to social media? These costs are even more difficult to measure than the consequences of widespread addiction to nicotine, but they exist regardless of our unwillingness or inability to measure the costs.

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Addictions: Social Media & Mobile Phones Fall From Grace

For everyone who remembers the Early Days of social media and mobile phones, it’s been quite a ride from My Space and awkward texting on tiny screens to the current alarm over the addictive nature of social media and mobile telephony.

The emergence of withering criticism of Facebook and Google is a new and remarkably broad-based phenomenon: a year or two ago, there was little mainstream-media criticism of these tech giants; now there is a constant barrage of sharp criticism across the media spectrum.

Even the technology writer for the Wall Street Journal has not just curbed his enthusiasm, he’s now speaking in the same dark tones as other critics: Why Personal Tech Is Depressing.

The critique of social media and mobile telephony, has reached surprising heights in a remarkably short time. Consider this article from the Guardian (UK) which compares Facebook and Google’s social media empire to world religions in terms of scale, and unabashedly calls them addictive and detrimental to health and democracy: How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy.

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On the Process of Awakening

There is a tremendous amount of pain in our society. There are many sources of this pain: the emotional desertification of dysfunctional families, the knowledge that we don’t fit in and never will, a widening disconnect between the narratives we’re told are true and our experience, and a social and economic structure that tosses many of us on the trash heap.

The lifestyle we’re told we need to be happy is unattainable to many, and disconcertingly unsatisfactory to the top 10% who reach it.

We cannot help but feel a hunger for authenticity, honesty, spiritual solace and human connection, but these are precisely what is scarce in our social and economic structure.

The process of awakening has many paths. For some, the path starts with the incoherence of official explanations and narratives. For others, it’s the inner search for truth via psychotherapy or spiritual practice.

For some, it’s an investigation into the way our economic and political hierarchy function. For others, art is the starting point: a film, a novel, a comic, a song.

For many of us, it begins with this simple but devastating realization: I don’t fit in. I don’t fit in, have never fit in and never will fit in. I play along because it’s easier on me and everyone I interact with to do so, and I value my independence which means I have to find a way to support myself. That is difficult, as what I like to do has little to no value in our economy.

What interests me is how the epidemic of pain and alienation that characterizes our society is the direct result of how our economy and social order is structured. Incoherence, self-destruction, pain and alienation are the only possible outputs of the system we inhabit.

I recently had an amazing free-form 1:50 hour conversation on these topics with New Zealand talk-show host Vinny Eastwood. Any conversation that stretches from the erosion of community to loneliness to Daniel Ellsberg to Marx to Taoism to alienation to Michelangelo Antonioni and on to the process of awakening is amazing in my view.

Here’s Vinny’s page with listening/viewing/downloading options, and the program on Youtube (please ignore my goofy expressions): The magic of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies (1:49:54)

My conclusion may strike many as radical, but to me it is self-evident: the primary source of the rot, insecurity, inequality and alienation of our society is the way we create and distribute money, which is the conduit for creating and distributing political power.

I explain why this is so in my books A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.

If we don’t change the way money is created and distributed, we change nothing. Money = power. If we don’t devise a form of money that is beyond the reach of central banks and states, all “reform” is just window-dressing, simulacra of “change” that simply solidifies the system’s bogus claim of being reformable.

Cryptocurrencies are in their infancy. There will be many more iterations of Cryptocurrencies beyond bitcoin and Ethereum; recall that bitcoin went public in 2009.

There are security challenges with cryptocurrencies, and the potential for central-state meddling via backdoors in computer operating systems. But once we understand that community and the potential for a less toxic society and economy are crippled by the centralized structure of the state and its money, then there is no way forward but to develop structures of money, work, community, purpose and meaning that are outside the direct control of the state and central bank.

This sort of “crazy talk” is unwelcome. As I noted earlier this week on my chart of the Ministry of Propaganda, in the status quo, skepticism is always a conspiracy or a hoax.

So instead we consider an exploding opiate epidemic, an epidemic of obesity and metabolic illnesses, a discourse of inchoate rage and a Grand Canyon-sized gap between what we’re told is true and what we experience as true “normal.”These things are not normal; they are manifestations of a system that can only generate one output: self-destruction.

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Are We Addicted to Failure?

Like all addicts, Central Planners are confident they can manage the monkey on their back. But this is a self-serving illusion.

Addiction is many things, but beneath its complexities it is a self-destructive expression of the desire to avoid or suppress pain. The pain might be physical or the stuff of the mind, memories or inner demons or tortured misgivings about one’s choices, soul and life.

Though the self-destructive aspects of the addiction are painfully visible to observers, to the addict they represent a solution: perhaps not the ideal one or even a good one, but a solution nonetheless.

Fear plays a big part in many addictions–fear of life without the addictive salve. The fear in an addict’s eyes when the fix is not forthcoming is haunting to all who witness it.

To the non-addicted observer, addictions are not successes; they are failures of one kind or another, and those who care about the addict seek some way to extract the addict from the grip of his/her addiction, and from the fear that often drives it.

I have recently been wondering if America is addicted to failure. 

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