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The Relation Between Freedom and Technology in American Culture

The Relation Between Freedom and Technology in American Culture

When we think of American roots and history, we think of the notion of freedom. After very turbulent beginnings, Americans fiercely fought to gain liberty and have consequently created an almost cult-like obsession with it, which is completely understandable. Charles Steele proposes that liberty is a concept around which the entire American system is structured and its founding idea (Steele, C. 2020). The concept of American freedom is a nice one in theory, but could it be possible that it is now being used against people through technology?
It is thought that our time is a time in which democracy has flourished. Never before have we had so many sources in the palms of our hands and so many opportunities to learn. However, since we are overburdened with so much information that we have no idea what to believe anymore, we turn to the people around us and the internet for answers (Tufekci, Z. 2018). Today it is incredibly easy to blur the lines between truths and lies and misrepresent facts, and shape people’s reality and thoughts in this way. However, it would be wrong to claim that democratisation hasn’t happened – for example, in terms of education: all of us have books available to us today and can look up any information we might be interested in. But isn’t it ironic how so many of us have forgotten that? After all, who could possibly have enough time to read with all of the information we are bombarded with online every day?
Additionally, owing to data mining and surveillance capitalism, we are influenced by Big Tech when it comes to where we spend our money, what we read, what we buy, what we think and who we vote for, and all of this is done with an ostensible concern for freedom. Every online activity is captured, analysed, and used to make predictions about what will catch our attention in the future. These information are sold to multi-billion dollar companies and most people don’t comprehend the potential dangers of this. Mark Leonard stated in his article ’’The Illusion of Freedom in the Digital Age’’: ’’With many of their deepest desires met, citizens will have the illusion of freedom and empowerment’’ (Leonard, M. 2017). However, most will not even realise that our free will has been taken away from us and that, in reality, not so much has changed as regards freedom.
As Nicholas Carr makes clear in response to Shoshana Zuboff, technology has the power to broaden human possibility or confine it – just like capitalism: ’’It was the product itself – made by workers, sold by companies, bought by customers – that tied the interests of capitalism’s participants tohether. Economic and social equilibrium was negotiated through the product’’ (Carr, N. 2019). However, in the case of technology, the product is the prediction of our future behaviour: ’’If power was once identified with the ownership of the means of production, it is now identified with ownership of the means of behavioral modification’’ (Zuboff, S. 2015).
With that being said, we need to examine the other side of that same coin. There is also an upside to technology, and to vilify it completely without recognising its potential to do good would mean taking a jaundiced view of this topic. After all, we are the products that Big Tech companies earn their money on, so the responsibility is partly ours as well. Even if we are being influenced and urged to spend our time, energy and money in a certain way, it is still up to us to question this and act accordingly. So how can we do this? I believe that the answer lies in living our lives in a meaningful way – creating relationships outside the internet, reading books, helping those in need and contributing to this world in a meaningful way. Educating ourselves on this topic is of immense importance as well, since this could urge us to think more about who we are giving infomation about our lives to and whether we are willing to ’’sell certainty’’ (Zuboff, S. 2020). After all, in the Declaration of Independence, freedom is defined as ownership and control over one’s life and actions. (Steele, C. 2020). Perhaps we should go back to basic principles and definitions of freedom if we want to live our lives in accordance with them. The change does start with an individual and if we emphasize the mastery of the 21st century skills and keep the conversation about preserving our online security and privacy going, I dare to say that there is hope.
J.P.

Resources:

Carr, N. (2019, January 15). Thieves of Experience: How Google and Facebook Corrupted Capitalism. Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/thieves-of-experience-how-google-and-facebook-corrupted-capitalism/
Leonard, M. (2017, November 20). The Illusion of Freedom in the Digital Age. Social Europe. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://www.socialeurope.eu/illusion-freedom-digital-age
Steele, C. (2020, July 4). The Importance of Freedom. The Armory of Life. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.thearmorylife.com/the-importance-of-freedom/
Tufekci, Z. (2018, September/October). An Avalanche of Speech Can Burry Democracy. Politico. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/05/too-much-free-speech-bad-democracy-219587
Zuboff, S. (2015). Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization. Journal of Information Techonology (2015) 30, 75-89. https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=139127066017103026001096113007018069054036085052058061088102000088115117095087019004098048016023118004125084028078115114119088023007070001017089013071127003092023049030013084086094026079120024077030118069099107109007019101113073099116126085064114&EXT=pdf&INDEX=TRUE
Zuboff, S. (2020, January 24). You Are Now Remotely Controlled. The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/opinion/sunday/surveillance-capitalism.html

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