The rapid rate of technological change makes it difficult for us as individuals, or for us as a society to keep up. Although the concept of “keeping up” is really just a metaphor for our relationship with time, how much we feel we have, and whether we feel ahead, with, or behind the times.
Similarly information overload is often expressed with the image of being underwater, or barely able to keep our heads above water, and again, this describes a sense of anxiety that comes with an accelerated culture.
Everything keeps on changing and we don’t seem to have a chance to stop, understand, and decide what it is we want to do, what it is we can, and should do. This brings up the debate around agency and the internet, how much of it responds to our own direction and needs, and how much of it is actually driving our direction and needs.
Michael Fertik the CEO of Reputation.com talks of a heroic quest for freedom: “there’s a concept called liberation technology, where we should liberate ourselves from the machine, and that you should be at the centre of the Internet. There’s a myth that you are at the centre of the Internet and you’re not. You’re right now basically the object of the Internet not the subject.”
Michael argues that the Internet is not working for us, but rather that we are working for it. Our personal information, our hours spent staring at screens, we are the ones being controlled, fuelling the agency of the larger machine.
Sociologist Nathan Jurgenson disagrees, while also addressing this paradox: “The internet is changing us, digital technologies are changing us, but we still have some control and agency to direct those changes… and we will continue to change after them, this is no end of history.”
Nothing is inevitable, providing we’re willing to pay attention! If we allow ourselves to be subsumed by our technology than we do abdicate our agency and free will. However if we can maintain a high level of literacy, and navigate an increasingly complex world, there’s no reason we cannot be empowered by it.
This partly involves understanding how our personal information is used against us. What the business model of social media is, and why we are the product more than we are the user.
Michael Fertik describes this as a crossroads, a key moment in history where we have a chance to make our fate: “we can have a world in which you are data serf or a data landlord and right now is the data enlightenment moment in which we’re going to figure out if you’re going to become a data landlord or a data serf for the rest of your life.”