Digital Dystopia: The True Cost of Technology

by Jack Slinkman

Preface: In this essay, I liken ChatGPT to the forbidden fruit. I admit that I am being hyperbolic with this parallel. As our relationship with artificial intelligence takes shape, we need to understand the dynamic nuances of our circumstance. Much of this essay is devoted to the potential harms these technologies pose, but that’s not to say that these technologies can’t greatly benefit us. After all, that is their allure. Used appropriately, AI can enable its users to work more efficiently, more capably, and, even, more creatively. As our technology grows and evolves at an exponential rate, we inevitably experience higher highs and lower lows. This essay sets out to define the rapidly plummeting floor brought on by AI, but I also want to acknowledge that there is a steadily rising ceiling. For those who still take issue with my stance, I’ll extend one more olive branch. When change occurs, it can feel as though it is happening to us. But, really, ChatGPT is an invention of mankind’s own. My cautions are directed not at the technology itself, moreso they are directed at the way we interact with and respond to these newfound technologies.

The internet has streamlined the way we consume. Video platforms like YouTube and Netflix have autoplay features to reduce friction between plays. Short-form videos, however, present a uniquely troubling paradigm shift: with short-form videos (be they Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, or TikToks), we are no longer choosing what to watch. That decision has been offloaded to an algorithm. Our choice, as viewers, is merely to decide whether to keep watching or to scroll to the next video. It is as if artificial intelligence’s autonomy has come at the cost of our own autonomy. More and more, our content has become iterative. Our consumption, mindless. ChatGPT, the internet’s latest invention, is now streamlining the way that we produce content. Instead of commoditizing our attention, the language processing tool threatens to commoditize our creativity – why paint a painting or write an essay when AI can do it with the click of a button? The internet giveth and the internet taketh away. Pixar’s WALL-E (a dystopian caricature of mankind’s wrongful dependence on technology) no longer seems like it’s set in a far flung future. We are afraid that AI will supplant us. Movies like The Matrix and The Terminator have been entertaining this fear long before social media came along. We fear the robots will become human. But we give far less thought to the ways our technology threatens to dehumanize us.

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they ate because they wanted to become more like God. 2014’s sci-fi thriller Ex Machina imagines human beings as gods (or, at least, it imagines one human being, in particular, as a god). Nathan Bateman tenders his godhood through his genius invention, an artificially intelligent robot named Ava. In order for Nathan to be a god, Nathan must distance himself from the likes of others, even his human-passing robot. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed gives us a framework for understanding this covetous, forbidden fruit grubbing pattern for what it is: “dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human” (Freire 44). Nathan shares the great defect that all human beings share with Adam and Eve, we do not long to become “more fully human,” but something more—more than human. Consider this paragraph the latticework on which the rest of this essay hangs.

Smartphones, like a malevolent genie, promise to fulfill our deepest needs, but, instead, further amplify them, debasing us in the process. Email promised to lighten our workload by making us more efficient, but it blurred the lines between work and home. Social media lured us in with interpersonal connection, but it gave us projection-based anxiety and dopamine-induced depression. We have the power of ancient kings in the palm of our hand—monarchs used to command jesters to entertain them, these days we can stream a 4k movie with the swipe of a finger. You would think that having a digital butler would make for more margin in our lives, but it actually makes us more selfish: “what we are doing at any given moment becomes all-important— which is behavioristically doomed. For this desperate approach to time is at once flawed and narcissistic” (Rushkoff 7). When the real world stops revolving around us, we have a digital world to domineer over. We sedate boredom with podcasts and soften loneliness with dating apps. We don’t control humanoid robots like Nathan, but we have the next best thing in smartphones. And though we didn’t, personally, pluck the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, we are well acquainted with its aftertaste: “from the Garden of Eden to the branches of Macintosh / Apple picking has always come at a great cost” (Jones 1:34-1:40).

ChatGPT, like the forbidden fruit, tempts us with desires that are, at face value, innocent enough, but, upon further inspection, are undeniably sinful in nature. What’s to stop students from outsourcing their academic papers to AI? Why shouldn’t we automate our work emails? If creativity is only a means for producing content, no harm done. But Genesis 1 and 2 tell a different story. God’s act of creation was a response: the world was formless and void which prompted Him to create. Following each act of creation, God surveyed his work, noting the goodness of each aspect. Taking lead from Genesis 1, creation is both something to labor in and something to rest in; it requires purpose, craft, and reflection. But when we slough off our brainstorming to AI, we siphon purpose out of our work. When we ask AI to craft our responses, we depersonalize and dehumanize our work. And when we ask AI to think on our behalf, we put down the practice of critical thought and take up the process of thoughtless consumption and production. Tell me, then, who is the robot and who is the human? Ultimately, “we can’t recalibrate the heart from the top down… The orientation of the heart happens from the bottom up, through the formation of our habits of desire” (Smith 25). Both ChatGPT and the forbidden fruit can demagnetize our moral compasses: they are vessels of vast information, their knowledge promising to draw us nearer to God (even to the point of supplanting him), when in fact it is just as likely to send us in the exact opposite direction.

The natural world is a “world of goodness, a world of beauty, a work of art” (Mackie 40:25-40:32) that reminds us of the goodness that is inherent to human nature. But our counterfeit digital worlds remind us of the depravity of human nature and how we aspire to become gods (really, how dissimilar are we from Ex Machina’s Nathan?). Just as God made image bearers to have dominion over the land, we designed artificial intelligence to preside over the internet. The algorithm decides what we consume. The Chatbot decides what we produce. It goes beyond written text too—deepfakes and voice cloning make it that we don’t even know if the people we are seeing and hearing are really people. Each time we log into social media, pick up our smartphones, and engage with AI, we participate in a dystopian nightmare of sorts—as long as the digital landscape remains as indulgent as Ready Player One’s OASIS and lawless asWestworld’s Delos theme park, our trajectory is Wall-E. So while artificial intelligence is promising in so many ways, it has the potential to be equally as corrupting—it is a malevolent genie to the covetous, it is a demagnetizing force to our moral compass, and it is the forbidden fruit to our human depravity.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin Classics, 2017.

Garland, Alex. Ex Machina. A24, 2014.

Jones, Soulful, Marshall. “Touchscreen.” Youtube, uploaded by speakeasynyc, October 12, 2011,

Mackie, Tim. “Science and Faith.” Exploring My Strange Bible. Apple Podcasts, uploaded August 16, 2017,

Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock. Current; Reprint edition, 2014.

Smith, James, K. You Are What You Love. Brazos Press, 2016.