Dateline: BERKELEY—While many Americans are reeling from the news that the NSA is spying on their locations by tracking their mobile devices, social scientists are concerned about a more existential threat: those devices are turning people into assholes.
Ordinary users of smart phones, eReaders, and the like are noticing the change. Said one, “A decade ago, you used to be able to have a friendly chat with a stranger. But now everyone’s always wired in; they’re looking down at their mini computers, texting or tweeting someone, googling this or that, or playing a game app. You’ll be asking someone a question and he’ll be multitasking, giving you only half his attention while he’s checking his email.”
Social scientists at UC Berkeley have a theory to explain what’s happening. They call it assholization. It began long ago, they say, at the dawn of technology. Tools made us more efficient and powerful and that started turning our ancient ancestors into assholes. “It’s largely just a matter of being corrupted by power,” says Dr. Stanley Pishposh, the lead researcher at Berkeley studying this phenomenon. “At one point, long, long ago, we must have been settling disputes with just our fists. Then we invented the ax and those earliest ax users were perhaps the first full-fledged assholes to walk the planet. They bullied those without axes, you see. Again, we used to have to run from here to there. Then we domesticated horses and you had the rise of the nobles who could afford them—again, big-time assholes, thanks to that advance in technology.
“Then the car replaced the horse and you saw this exponential increase in assholization. Now there’s road rage and street racing and running through stop signs and monster truck rallies. There are the drivers that cut you off and drive slowly in the passing lane and give you the finger and sell you a lemon of a used car and key your car doors and listen to assholian talk show hosts on the car radio. Cars have made us even bigger assholes.
“Finally, there’s computerization, which really tips the scales. Technologies like the internet and mobile devices make us incredibly more powerful than our ancestors, which naturally corrupts us all the more. You have anonymity on the internet which turns people into trolls terrorizing cyberspace. You’ve got curt emails, intelligence-draining tweets, and assholes showing their penises in video chat rooms. You’ve got computer viruses and spam and popup ads, all brought to you by monumental assholes.”
We used to have to rely on morality or the law to defend us when we couldn’t ensure our security because we had so few tools, but now we have an army of machines that makes us feel invincible. According to Dr. Pishposh, “nine times out of ten, a primate with nothing to fear acts like an asshole.”
The researchers hypothesize that we’re adapting to an environment that contains more and more machines, which makes us more robotic in our thinking and behaviour. “Computers don’t yet have much emotional capacity,” explains Dr. Pishposh. “There’s something about programming a computer with a lot of math and logic; you don’t get much intuition or feeling out of that machine. So assholization itself begins with the advent of technology. An ax is an asshole. Just try dropping one on your foot and you’ll see what I mean. The ax won’t get out of the way, let me tell you. And a car is a big, whopping asshole. Cars kill people all the time, the buggers. And computers, too—assholes, the lot of them. They cost an arm and a leg, they always crash on you, and you think your porn is well-hidden, but no it turns out you forgot to password-protect one of the directories and then your wife finds it. I hate it when that happens.