Digital Networks: Connecting and Commodifying

CC image courtesy of Tanja Scherm on Flickr

CC image courtesy of Tanja Scherm on Flickr

In Ulises Ali Meijas’s Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, he discusses our involvements in digital networks and why it may be desirable and potentially necessary to disidentify with these digital networks. As young people, we (almost) all participate in digital networks everyday. There is an endless number of sites and devices which promote this participation and that we encounter everyday. From Facebook to Twitter to Tumblr to Instagram to Pinterest to YouTube to LinkedIn, most of us have a connection to a network. And most of us have an active presence on some, if not all, of these networks where we remain connected with people we know, connect with new people, and market ourselves to others surrounding our networks in the hopes of forming a connection.

Meijas defines “digital network” as:

“a composite of human and technological actors (the nodes) linked together by social and physical ties (the links) that allow for the transfer of information among some or all of these actors” (Meijas xii).

It’s not just these networks on the Internet that count as digital networks. Other technologies like cell phones and radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices count too. More than half of the people in the world now own a cell phone, and I’m sure that number is only going to grow. As for RFID devices, many chips featuring the technology are being put into people, animals, and products. In Digital Culture last semester, we thoroughly discussed this technology and the moral issues surrounding it. We discussed if we would want our children to have them and whether we would ever want them for ourselves.

CC image courtesy of muscapix on Flickr

CC image courtesy of muscapix on Flickr

To me, it kind of feels like some future inevitable thing that comes straight out of a sci-fi movie, where everyone is required to have an ID chip implanted in them when they are born, so that the government can then have complete control over everyone and know exactly where everyone is at all times. I can see the merits of this technology, like implanting them in pets, so that if they run away, the owner can easily track them and find them. I think this use is a great one and a great reason to continue to have them.  I see how putting them into products would help loss prevention for many businesses and help find shoplifters.

I also see how some people may want to have their kids implanted with them, mostly out of fear of their child getting abducted, kidnapped, or lost and then being able to find them, but honestly the point where I draw the line is having them put into humans. Even if it may help people find their lost kids, if everyone wants to put a chip in their kid, what is going to stop the government from making it mandatory eventually. This technology comes at the price of losing our privacy completely. I found this article about a student being suspended from school in Texas for refusing to wear her student ID card containing an RFID chip. I think if someone is old enough to refuse to be tracked by an RFID chip, then it should be his or her right to make that decision for themselves.

Another important topic that Meijas talks about is participatory culture and the exploitive nature of it:

“while digital networks do increase the opportunities to act and participate, they also exploit the gap between network participants and those who profit from their aggregated contributions” (Meijas 22).

Our digital technologies certainly allow for more and more participation from users. This participation can take the form of pleasurable contributions from any and all users, but this becomes an issue when this free participation becomes exploited by the economically motivated, turning the pleasurable work into a commodity for profit. This is a topic we have discussed a few times in seminar already, and I’m sure we’ll continue that discussion on Thursday.

 

Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the network: disrupting the digital world. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

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