Does technology alter your behavior? Is technology changing us? Is technology eroding our social values? Do we make our tools? Or do our tools make us?
This debate around agency and technological determinism has raged for the past few decades and continues to divide scholars, hackers, and activists who wish to harness the empowering effects of technology while avoiding the pitfalls and potential for abuse.
As we gain increasing proficiency with the web and the Internet at large there is a growing chorus of voices that suggest we not only can, but rather we must take responsibility for the world that is emerging around us. We cannot allow the toxic behaviour and sentiment that populates so many of the comment sections of the websites we love, to continue to dominate so much of the public and shared spaces online.
Microsoft sociologist danah boyd draws the connection through contemporary media culture: “When people do terrible things, when they commit violent crimes, when they take their own lives, when they hurt somebody else, there are explanations that we like to have as a society, places we like to blame. And in particular we like to blame the new things? Whether it’s comic books in the 1950s or penny novels back in the day. Or today whether it’s new media, video games or some explanation of a third party that allows us to not take responsibility. Allows us to not recognize that we don’t live in the most healthy of societies.”
Perhaps the past two decades have been our and the web’s coming of age. Social media a kind of adolescence where we began to explore our new found power and privilege to communicate and reach an ever expanding audience. The euphoria we experience when reconnecting with friends old and new lends itself to a feeling of being intoxicated.
As filmmaker and internet pioneer Tiffany Shlain, explains, “it’s something called an infinite dopamine loop where you just can’t get satiated, a hunger for knowledge, info, sex, drugs, drinking, all the same addictive hormonal loop.”
Drunk on technology we may have acted out and done things we would not have had we been face to face and accountable by other means. Sober and slightly hungover we can now look around and agree there has to be a better way. A way in which we can have privacy, and connectivity, have interactivity and intelligence.
The alternative surrounds us as we look elsewhere in the world where authoritarianism and violence is rising, in many cases directly fueled by the internet and technology. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of society do we want, and how can we use our tools to make it happen.