Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Digital Dissonance


If you look for “Digital Dissonance” online, you’ll find lots of references. (Google claims 8,170 hits.) Although many relate to music (and art), none have anything to say about the psychological dissonance caused by the Digital Revolution.

Aside from music, my AHD gives this definition for dissonance: “Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict.” If I had to pick one synonym, I’d go with disharmony. And you should know all about cognitive dissonance from Psych 101.

So what’s the deal with digital dissonance? If it’s such a popular phrase, why are there no definitions or examples? Don’t know, but let me offer one: it’s how digital makes us feel one way when reality is the opposite (hence the dissonance).

For example, digital gives us the feeling of anonymity, when in fact our every digital action is documented, tracked, and recorded. These records are maintained and distributed without our knowledge.

Digital gives us the feeling of invisibility, when in fact every movement we make in a world filled with cameras and locators is documented, tracked, and recorded—on who knows how many databases.

Digital gives us the feeling of being in touch, when in fact many are using the technology to avoid actual interactions with others. As Sherry Turkle put it, digital “provides the illusion of companionship without the demands of a relationship.”

Digital gives us the feeling of being in control of this powerful technology, when in fact the technology really runs the show. But you wouldn’t buy the technology if it made you feel it was in charge. Well, it doesn’t, so we buy it—and then buy more.

The dissonance that digital makes us feel is no mere minor discomfort. The more businesses use digital to give us feelings contradictory to the facts, the more they manipulate how we live, where we go, what we buy, and especially, how we think.

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