Your free will is being hacked—what are you willing to do about it?

For the past 3 years, I’ve written about technology’s impact on our attention, time and focus. This is a concern for me because I’ve personally experienced the downsides to using technology mindlessly and missing out on some things that really matter. But I watched an interview this past weekend that woke me up to the larger problem that’s driving our distracted lives. It helped me understand the true impact of technology on the human brain and the far-reaching implications on our society and our future. The interview drew my attention to how technology is being used to manipulate our free will.

You check Facebook for a 5-minute break and end up spending 30 minutes.

You find yourself watching funny cat videos instead of doing research for a work project.

You go on Amazon to order the one thing you need and end up buying much more.

At the root of all these decisions is your free will.

Your ability to make a choice based on what you need and want—your free will serves you.

But what if your free will is no longer yours.

What if it’s being manipulated by others?

Others who would like you to make choices you wouldn’t if you were left to choose without interference.

Choices that may not be in your best interest but are in theirs.

We’ve all heard about growing technology-related such as digital addiction, privacy breaches, misinformation, political polarization and social isolation. But until now, I didn’t understand the full scale of the danger we face, from our individual thoughts to our global welfare. That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Perhaps an overstatement? I wish. I know this isn’t something that anyone really wants to hear. I'll admit my first instinct was to turn away and carry on like normal. Much like climate change, the situation is critical and fixing the mess we’re in is far from easy. But fixing this will help us tackle other big issues that we need to solve together as a global society, issues such as climate change. So I’m going to dig in and do what I can.

If you’d like see the interview that inspired me to write this, you’ll find it here. And if you’d like to learn more about what’s at stake and what we can do about it, check this out

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to help combat the manipulation of your free will.

  • Know thyself: the best way to do this is through meditation. Even 15 minutes a day can make a significant difference and there’s a vast array of tools and resources to help you get started.
  • Talk to people: those you know and those you don’t—in person, as much as you can. Have conversations that allow you to understand and support each other, in both your commonalities and your differences. In the end, we all want similar things out of life.
  • Read books: read any and all kinds of books, ideally the paper version. Books are doors into other lives, perspectives, ideas and worlds. Step through and enjoy a journey that involves more than just sounds bites.
  • Explore and learn: go places and do stuff, offline. Discover the new and enjoy the familiar. We live on a beautiful planet, filled with wonder and opportunity. Make the most of it.
  • Make your own choices: remind yourself what your goals are, how you want to spend your time and what you want to achieve. Then use that knowledge to form the basis of your everyday decisions, without technology pointing you in a specific direction.
  • When online, be mindful: be aware of misdirection and think about who’s in charge of your time and attention. Most software is designed to keep you online longer and direct your attention to something that’s of value to someone else. Value your attention as much as they do and spend it accordingly.
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