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  • Writer's pictureSean Walker

The Boiled Frog.

Updated: May 31

The Boiled Frog: A Metaphor for Our Digital Lives

The boiling frog experiment is a metaphorical story that illustrates how small, gradual changes remain unnoticed until they result in a drastic and potentially harmful outcome. According to the anecdote, if a frog is suddenly put into boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if the frog is placed in tepid water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. But is this true? Interestingly, herpetologist Victor Hutchison clarifies that a frog would attempt to escape as the water temperature rises, indicating that the story is more fable than fact.

For many decades, we have been submerged in a boiling, ever-expanding technological soup. In the tepid days of dial-up modems and online chat rooms, my internet playtime was often cut short by another family member's urgency to use the landline. With my mum's standard phone conversation lasting at least two hours, the Yahoo Messenger chat with my third-year crush was often cut to an abrupt end. 1999, what a time to be a teenager. Consider this: a shy fourteen-year-old boy, awakening to the allure and attraction of the opposite sex, is presented with a tool that allows you to communicate with any girl in school without the anxiety of approaching a face-to-face conversation. Yes, please! I jumped head first into this exciting new technology and millions of other nervous, eager teenagers. The soup has now been set to boil. No doubt an appealing and delicious outcome, if only confidence, communication skills and personal growth weren't the ingredients lost in the mix. For at least 20,000 years, every generation of my bloodline has successfully found a mate through face-to-face conversation. Am I now the weakest link in the art of courtship in over 800 generations? Thankfully, I have a beautiful partner, four wonderful children, and a fifth on the way, so I have no real concerns here; my worry lies in what this means for our species as a whole. The essential pursuit of mating, spanning across all known time, has been starkly altered.

In 1999, one hour on Yahoo Messenger per night was all the internet time I required. Fast forward to today, with the rise of e-commerce, the introduction of the smartphone, and the explosion of social media, the average person now spends 6 hours and 42 minutes online daily (source: BroadbandSearch), with that we now have a hoard of successfully thriving mobile apps dedicated solely to “digital detoxing” and restricting screen time. Are we now, at least partially, boiled frogs? StayFree, a screen time monitoring app, boasts over 10 million downloads, indicating that some of us are at least aware of our boiling state.

Let's delve deeper into the boiling frog fable. The story has often been used in political, business, and environmental contexts to illustrate how we might ignore gradual negative changes. However, the fact that it's a myth is significant when considering the pervasive influence of technology and our information consumption. Why? Because it shows how we are easily swayed by compelling narratives, even when they aren't true. The internet is rife with such stories, from scam emails and misleading memes to sensationalist clickbait. My scepticism towards online content has deepened after encountering these digital deceptions. It saddens me to have become so cynical and distrustful of human interactions. Acting upon information found online that needs to be adequately verified is complacent and can be life-changing in many circumstances. Information forms the foundation of our reality, influencing our religious beliefs, dietary choices, political stances, and even how we raise our children. Today, the internet is overwhelmed with conflicting information on every topic, from nutrition and health to corporate and celebrity scandals. In a time where content engagement earns capital, it is ever more challenging to discern truth from falsehood.

AI technologies are enhancing our storytelling capabilities and will soon equip every smartphone user with the tools required to produce video content of Hollywood standard quality. The rise of deep fakes will likely make compelling but false narratives as familiar as clickbait articles. This inevitability challenges us to maintain a critical eye towards all online information. My approach will remain one of scepticism, striving to discern the truth by seeking to understand the human source behind each piece of content. A potential upside? Exhausted by deceptive and manipulative content, the online community might begin to dismiss such information outright. This scenario would force us to exercise the same caution our ancestors practised when identifying safe from poisonous plants. Such vigilance could represent a significant victory for humanity, a universal understanding of our susceptibility to advertising and propaganda, restoring many with some degree of independent thought. Alternatively, the world continues to evolve as usual; those who can adeptly apply balance and caution may prosper, while those who are more challenged suffer the fate of attention-seizing platforms and reality-changing information.

So, what steps can we take to ensure we don't allow ourselves to be stripped of opportunities that feed our emotional growth and individual development? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s start a conversation about finding balance in our digital lives.

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