A Future of Our Choosing
It is our free will, our ability to choose, that sculpts the future. This statement may appear a bit of a misnomer since rarely, outside of an election season, is the importance and power of personal choice at the forefront of public attention. But in fact, there is nothing more potent nor more powerful than our ability to vote, and we vote every waking moment of every day. These votes are cast in the form of the choices we make, in how we commit our time, devote our attention and spend our money. Even the smallest decision represents a vote.

Unfortunately, one of the greatest tragedies of the human experience is that we undervalue the impact of our choices in crafting our world and our future. If you question this value, consider that all marketing and political campaigns exist for a single purpose: to capture, direct and retain your allegiance. Stated in more tangible terms, the cost of a single 30-second commercial during the 2019 Super Bowl was $5.25 million. Budweiser® purchased 5.5 minutes of our Super Bowl time. Moreover, in order to encourage us not to mute the sound or leave the room, they invested huge sums in production and promotion. All with one goal: our vote.

It is our inability to comprehend the power and long-term cascading effects of our decisions that renders us complacent to the point of carelessness. We have been led to believe and behave as if we are simply hapless spectators in the game of life, privileged to be relegated to the bleachers. Quite the contrary, we are the ones who fund the stadium, the ones it was built to serve. It is our endorsement, our vote, that makes all things possible.

Our choices matter. This is why campaigning is as old as commerce and politics. But something significant changed in recent years: the capacity and power to persuade. In today’s digital world, everything we view, stream, click, post and like is monitored. These, along with our location, spending habits and connections, are tracked, sorted, cataloged, productized and sold in order to feed us a diet of custom content that speaks directly to our deepest emotions and beliefs. The goal? To not only assure us that our preferences and worldview are normal and correct, but to ensure that they remain predictable, stable and accessible.

It is these customized and competing virtual comfort zones that form stark political, social and ideological divisions. Whether something is deemed false or gospel often depends on the view from each individual’s personalized newsfeed. The result? Each side is not only unable to understand but likely unaware of the perspective held by the other, each not realizing their deeply held convictions may simply be the manufactured effect of an ever-present, self-affirming algorithm.

Being a carefree consumer of content is effortless; it is also irresponsible. It’s the equivalent of surrendering autonomy for the utilitarian embrace of an algorithmic tour guide that will escort you to a virtual comfort zone constructed from a history of your preferences, an artificial reality owned and curated by those seeking your attention and your vote.

Today, independent, robustly informed, critical and deliberate choice is not only a matter of personal responsibility, it’s a civic duty. A future built on a history of preferences is not a formula for personal growth nor societal progress. Nothing is free. And the price of compliancy of choice is free will, self-determination and, eventually, a future of our own design.

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Rick Thomas