Tech-obsessed: networked and online determinism

image courtesy of edutopia.org

image courtesy of edutopia.org

Ulises Ali Meijias’ Off the Network discusses “the technological phenomenon [that] represents the most dangerous form of determinism in the modern age” (xiv, introduction).

“Our tools shape our way of acting, knowing, and being in the world,” writes Meijias, “but some of their influence can unfold without our consent or even awareness, and this determinism is particularly dangerous…without even realizing it, we become slaves not so much to the technology, but to the assumptions about what they are for, what they do for us, and so on” (xv, introduction).

One of the points Meijias argues is that “digital networks are oppressive not by virtue of being digital or being networks per se but by virtue of being part of a capitalist order that produces inequality” (5). However, it seems like the argument is more based on issues with access than on producing inequality; if anything, in 2014, these networks are increasingly helping to level the playing field in terms of gaining exposure to information, online communities, and staying informed regarding labor practices or privacy leaks.

Furthermore, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are massive proponents in the spread of information. Younger generations–though their reputation continues to be “uninformed,” “uninterested,” “spoiled,” etc.–and those on isolated campuses such as college students, are increasingly getting their news from these social platforms and from friends. On an average day, I skim my Twitter feed anywhere from three to 10 times, checking for breaking news headlines, fashion announcements (the life of a fashion freelance writer…), story ideas, and general blurbs from industry professionals and friends. Using a platform that has the potential for immense self-worshipping as a source of news and inspiration–since it could be an endless stream of status updates–feels like a personal and professional (albeit small) victory. The image below, a recent news headline about the effects tweeting threats (and here, the demented response from the public), depicts both the dangers and benefits of the aforementioned network.

image courtesy of NY Daily News. This is how to use Twitter WRONG.

image courtesy of NY Daily News. This is how to use Twitter WRONG.

Meijias goes on to say that it is:

“the very appeal of the digital network as a cultural metaphor for imagining community that makes it particularly restrictive as a social determinant. The digital network is a ready-made image into which we can pour our hopes for social unity and connectivity. We can point to a location in the network map and say “that’s me!,” while admiring the wealth of our social capital. A network map thus becomes an egotistic object for aesthetic contemplation: it is visually pleasing, dynamic, and it is about us. It is the social world turned into an interactive mirror, miniaturized and projected onto a screen for our pleasure” (14).

While I agree with Meijias’ statement—social networking is, at its core, all about the individual—it’s this appeal to the vanity in all of us that makes it so successful, and thus more like to reach out to others and establish dozens (hundreds, even) more weak ties. (Admittedly, strong ties are better, but social networking is strictly a positive tool. That is, it can only help to establish a wider network, and doesn’t mandate the exchange of strong ties for week ones). His comment that “Public intellectuals…who advocate that digital networks are being used to empower the public are only undermining our potential to free ourselves from the hypnotic hold of this aestheticized form of society” (15) makes Meijias appear to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist…but maybe that’s just the hypnosis talking.

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