The Dark Side of Digital
A few weeks ago I attended an event that extolled the virtues of digital communications and social media.
Barely two decades ago, advances in technology, digital communications, and nascent social media really did feel as if we were approaching a new horizon with boundless possibilities. But what does this horizon look like on closer inspection?
When powerful figures can re-tell events according to their own agenda, when millions of people are exploited through misuse of their personal data, when tech giants can act as laws unto themselves - what should we make of our apparently Brave New World?
The acceptance of ‘alternative truths’ and ‘fake news’ as part of the debate is disquieting.
At the event, I was disappointed by the panel’s failure to respond to challenges around these issues. That experts think we have to accept that ‘alternative truths’ are now a legitimate part of debate, and that we just ‘have to make our truth the truth’, is an uneasy thought.
What was even more disturbing at the event, though, was the description of ‘weaponising the public‘ for political purposes.
The language we use reflects our thoughts and values, and the decisions and actions we take. Likewise, what happens in the ‘digital’ world ultimately manifests in the ‘real’ world.
Challenging neglectful, harmful, or ignorant behaviour and practices, as well as unintended consequences in the digital sphere, is vitally important.
Society has not kept pace with digital developments. From the impact on our mental health, to the unknown use of our data without our consent for the purpose of influencing our choices, to exploitative working conditions, societal norms and safeguarding regulations are far behind the digital curve.
The ease in life that some digital developments give us can make it easy to sleepwalk past the darker side of digital life. However, the prospect of challenging something as nebulous and powerful as the digital world is daunting.
So what should I do?
This event gave me a lot of food for thought. As a starter for ten, these are my thoughts on challenging the darker side of digital:
WATCH MY LANGUAGE
Our thoughts become our actions. On an individual level, in my personal and professional life and use of digital communications, I can check my own behaviour - and be open when others challenge me.
CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION
These problems and what to do about them are bigger than any individual. But a problem shared is a problem halved. Joining the debate is a powerful way to encourage discussion, raise awareness, and find new routes for action.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
What are my digital rights, exactly? What rights should I be campaigning for? I need to get clued up.
ENSURE THE DIGITAL WORLD IS WORKING FOR ME AND THE PEOPLE I CAMPAIGN FOR, NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND
I need to check myself both in terms of how I use, and promote the use of, social media and digital communications.
TAKE A DIGITAL DETOX
When I took part in Scroll Free September earlier this year, I found that I was a great deal happier without social media platforms like Facebook. I didn’t actually need them, despite the common social perception that you’ll be left behind if you don’t use them. It’s OK to choose what you use!
I should also remember that there is a lot to celebrate in the world! Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, where data can be used as therapy or to control your drama intake, is an excellent counterpoint to the dark side of digital.