Inequality in the Digital Network

facebook_socialgraphUlises Ali Mejias book Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World discusses how digital networks organize and shape society. He simplify defines the 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” (Intro, xii)

He argues that digital networks produce inequality through participation, while maintaining a common perception that is produces equality through unlimited opportunities to access information and gain social capital. While it is true that digital networks do, in fact, provide these opportunities, it is only a short term advantage. One of the ways Mejias argues that digital networks create this inequality is through the commodification of the social:

“participation is presented as a fait accompli, in the absence of options and alternatives, and as an almost naturalized form of commodification in which a social act (sending e-mail to students and colleagues) is almost invisibly transformed into a revenue-creating opportunity for corporation” (7)

social-media-marketing-iconsI think Mejias’ example of G-mail is an excellent one, as I have never thought about it in this way, although I am not surprised since Google has always benefited from users personal search choices. I think its accurate for Mejias to suggest that our own participation in online networks act as an accompli to its commodification. When we shared content with others in our networks, it is monitored, and Google often times takes this information and allows different companies to purchase ad space to attract specific users. Just as Mejias says when we suggests we are unknowingly being put to work for Google: “The more Google knows about us, the better it can sell that information to people who want to target ads at us” (7). I see this everyday when I am casually scrolling through my FaceBook newsfeed, and see various ads that are definitely targeted by my online viewing habits. These suggested post come from what has been monitored from my computer.

Mejias helped my understanding of how digital networks create inequality when he related it to the relationship between the colonized and colonizer, a topic that has become very repetitive throughout the current semester. He touches upon Partha Chatterjee’s suggestion that:

“The colonial project granted the colonized individuals subjecthood, although it did not grant them citizenship (it offered them a worldview in which they could locate themselves, but it restricted their participation by deducting them to a subjugated role)” (8).

Since these digital networks organize our social participation, we take on a passive role that adheres to the ways in which digital platforms allow participants to organize their social involvement. Instagram is meant for users to share pictures, Twitter is meant to allow users to share feelings and opinions in 140 characters or less, SnapChat is meant for people to communicate through pictures or videos that disappear in a matter of seconds (although its likely they do not disappear from the companies data storage). All of these digital platforms are not shaped by us, but they shape us in predetermined ways. We are the colonized in this digital world, and I don’t see it coming to an end any time soon.

 

Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2013. PDF.

Images from Creative Commons

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