🔬 Research summary by Connor Wright, our Partnerships Manager.
[Original paper by Marinus Ossewaarde]
Overview: With the emergence of technology, society has changed immeasurably. Questioning the status quo has become less of a pressing issue in favour of continuing to use a digital service. However, reflection is one of the most critical skills in preventing a digital future guided and dominated by the few.
The lives of many have become densely linked with technology. The digital transformation is being led and developed by certain parties (labelled as the “googlization” of everything). Hence, social theory must adapt to the dominant economic and digital spheres, promoted and sustained through different technological “myths”. To do so, acknowledging the status quo and advocating the importance of questioning will prove essential in both understanding and combating digital domination by the few. Up first is acknowledgement.
Digital and physical life have become inseparable
The reality we live in is becoming more and more recognised as inextricably linked with the digital space. The influence technology possesses often goes unnoticed until it is briefly taken away. Such influence is so strong that users readily accept the missions of businesses to continue using their services (especially when accepting the role that technology plays in our lives has led to the subsequent domination of digitalisation.
The domination of digitalisation
The information available through tech has ended up in its economisation. Less thinking and more simply accepting is the easiest way to drive profit, reducing the value of mental activities such as reflection. Whereas previously, society has been driven by the political and religious spheres of life, the economic sphere has overtaken them thanks to digital transformation. Through this, the few driving the transformation can dictate the game’s rules as to what this digital transformation will look like. The changes undergone do not bode well for the academic sphere.
The consequences for intellectual practices
With digitalisation as the driver behind the dominant economic sphere, academic work becomes valued when it adopts the norms and language of the prevailing economic sphere. Such dominance then makes it difficult to imagine alternative scenarios to the reality in which we find ourselves. Instead of being encouraged to think, the mind is being used as an instrument of power rather than being critical. The ability of art and science to influence the mind gets weaker as this conditioning goes on while increasing the passive acceptance of the status quo. It is through this lack of questioning that “fake” myths can be developed.
“Genuine” vs “fake” myths
In contrast to a “fake” myth, a “genuine” myth leads to enlightenment through insights and a deeper understanding of the current state of affairs. The authors use Homer’s myths in the Odyssey as some examples. On the other hand, a “fake” myth doesn’t lead to enlightenment and is instead manufactured to reinforce the status quo. The fabrication is designed to blindfold the public so that they adhere to the status quo without question. One such example presented by the authors is Silicon Valley being lauded as the digital revolution heroes.
The digital myth
A reason Silicon Valley is seen in this way owes to how digitalisation is seen as bringing new enlightenment to the fore, making everyone more ready to accept whatever form it comes in. Promises of a new technological reality are made to condition how the public sees technology casting aside other potential realities to preserve the status quo. How this is done can be seen in the use of metaphors.
The use of metaphors
The digital reality desired by those at the helm of the technological reality is argued to utilise language to maintain the current state of affairs. Metaphors such as “data mining” and “the cloud” are employed but are inappropriate as they make data sound like a natural resource. Even metaphors such as “digital community” distracts from how communities are built on face-to-face interactions. Hence, again, the deep interaction between digital and physical reality comes through, subtly adjusting how we express ourselves and view technology itself.
Between the lines
I find how our use of language is also influenced by the technology we use very intriguing indeed. Similar occurrences can be seen in the anthropomorphic language used to describe AI at times, especially with self-driving cars being described as ‘making decisions’. I also see how big corporations spin their own take on reality often undetected. As a result, the importance of building up civic competence shines even brighter. Should we choose to stop asking questions, those who dictate the space will stop giving answers and there remain many unanswered questions yet.