I’m in the business of reducing humans to transactions. Your location. Your interests. Your messages to friends and family. Photos and videos of you. I’m not personally making money by reducing everyone to a transaction, but I’m in the business of educating those who are. Honestly, it isn’t something I’m proud of, and I feel like I should step away on a regular basis, but the money is good, and I feel like I can do more good by being honest about what is going on, and staying in the know, than I would ever if I just walked away from it all. So, I keep studying how companies, organizations, institutions, and government agencies are actively working to reduce us all to a transaction, so that everything can be kept nice and orderly, allowing our lives to be easily transacted in a online environment, meeting the expectations of this capitalist society we’ve let consume us.
As I walk around the factory each day, studying the shapes and sizes of the digital gears, I’m always looking for the different ways in which they grind up a little more of the meaningful human elements in our world—-helping me point a finger at the things we should consider resisting, or at least just be keeping an eye on. One of the ways I’m feeling dehumanized lately involves the regular waves of verifications I encounter that require me to prove I’m a human. The CAPTCHAs that I stumble across. The emails I receive. The redirects I get, just making sure I am a human being after working too hard online. I feel like these are all part of growing and sustained attack on on our physical self, incrementally reducing us to a more digitally friendly version of ourselves. Click’n on the cow clicker all day eats way at us. Scrolling through the digital streams further erodes us. But being regular interrogated by the border guards between the physical and digital realms as to whether we are human or not feels like it has a much more powerful effect on shocking us into digital submission, and living a more true computational existence.
Are you a robot? No! Sheesh…of course not. Wait, am I? I can spot the stoplights and the cars. I can read the letters and numbers. Wait, why do I have to do this? I can’t remember. I just do it. I am in compliance. The whole ritual is suspect. Clearly they are training some machine learning model. Maybe I am the machine learning model? Wait, what is the machine learning here? Who is teaching? Who is being taught? Dammit. All of this just feels like I am being tossed around in the digital dryer, and being ground up by the virtual gears. You are conducting too many consecutive Google searches? Are you a human? New benchmark defined. You are following too many people on this social network. Are you a human? New benchmark defined. It is kind of like a reward for spending enough time on the cow clicker, eventually you get asked if you are a human, receiving regular enforcement to the fact that you may not be anymore.
The human / robot verification dance is suspect. I will be keeping on eye on the damage it inflicts. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook excel at reducing us to transactions via our web and mobile applications. However, these ubiquitous elements of this digital world like the human / robot verification seem like they are reducing us to transactions in entirely new and exciting ways. I can avoid Facebook, but it is much harder to avoid CAPTCHAs. I’m intrigued that even though platform providers possess such immense amount of information about us, they still can’t be sure whether we are human or not, and regularly need our help verifying it all. It makes me feel like the platforms have spent more time on figuring out new and innovative ways of reducing us to transactions, and that maybe they haven’t invested much in actually understand what is human, and what is bot activity on the web—-which is a problem.
This article originally appeared here.