One of the main ideas of the “Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age” by Virginia Eubanks is the acknowledgement of danger of the society’s focusing solely on science and technology without giving adequate attention to promoting democratic values, protecting human rights and nurturing the citizens’ fundamental freedoms and activism. Per V. Eubanks, “Massive investment in science and technology without simultaneous investment in a more just society is an investment in increasing political and economic equality”. The authors’ major concern is the “digital divide” that technology creates by enabling the enrichment by the rich and privileged and leaving disadvantaged lower class people feeling powerless, exploited and in deeper economic and social crisis. Technology can be both a tool of liberation and a means of oppression.
To develop Eubanks’ ideas of exploitation further and to connect it with the concerns voiced by Vannevar Bush back in her 1945 article As We May Think – The Atlantic , the ethical questions should be at the forefront of any new technological and scientific development. No matter how much we want to believe in magic of technology, it does not always create a more prosperous, just and democratic society. Technological knowledge and information get often usurped by tyrants who use it to form dictatorships and suppress human rights around the world.
Eubanks starts and ends her book with drawing attention to President Obama’s speech on redemptive power of science and technology. It is our responsibility as citizens of the “global village” to ensure that technology in the 21st century does not spin out of control, without any moral boundaries, does not get to serve only those who want to pull us back in time and take away liberties that were earned by lost lives and human struggle in the past centuries.
When in 1945 science was exploiting nuclear power for the first time in history and being on the verge of space exploration, some of the first ethical concerns of using technology for the best of humanity were voiced. Today we are dealing with more complex information and communication technology and scientific achievements in the areas of reproductive health, gene engineering, genomic testing for cancer treatment etc. Now it is more topical than ever to direct our scientific knowledge and energy towards the great causes of humanity and build a better world rather than for the destruction or damage to the people and our planet.
Dictators and those in power are always eager to embrace science and technology and to appropriate it for the purpose of domination and retaining control over population and personal profits.
“Hitler’s dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. It was the first dictatorship in the present period of modern technical development, a dictatorship which made complete use of all technical means for the domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and the loud-speaker, eighty million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man”, said Albert Speer. Hitler, one of the most horrendous dictators of the 20th century embraced technology and heavily invested in scientific experiments. He also knew that shaping the mind of the people and controlling information was the key to his rise to power. Hitler wrote in his infamous “Mein Kampf” book: “Industry, technology, and commerce can thrive only as long as an idealistic national community offers the necessary preconditions. And these do not lie in material egoism, but in a spirit of sacrifice and joyful renunciation.”
One of the worst dictators of the 21st century Vladimir Putin takes after Hitler today in attempting to hypnotize his 150 million people nation by using technology in broadcasting, Internet surveillance, spying on high ranking government officials around the world and using the uncovered secrets to blackmail and or bribe them to promote Kremlin’s agenda.
Is Snowden a human rights fighter or a servant of a dictatorship? Here is a point of view…
With cheaper and more accessible technological tools, major changes in the society are inevitable. We become more connected and empowered, yet paradoxically disconnected, feeling like “just a number in the system”, like a matrix cell “living in public”. It is responsibility of every one of us to become aware, educated and active in making sure that scientific achievement today is directed to promote peace and advancement of humanity.
2 thoughts on “It is Up to Us!”
Not to call you out, but I wanted to correct the quote in your first paragraph, because I was confused and had to double check it myself. Virginia Eubanks said that “Massive investment in science and technology without simultaneous investment in a more just society is an investment in increasing political and economic [*]inequality,” not increasing *equality.*
But you are right in explaining her point of view. It’s not that people on the other side of the divide don’t have access at all. She discovered—and then enlightened myself and hopefully many others—that they DO have access and interaction with technology, but that it is usually a negative, oppressive experience for them. This is because, as you said, they are often exploited by the technology they come into contact with, and it is not built in ways that would give them control and access to the advantages that those of us on this side of the divide usually associate with technology.
You make an excellent point in explaining how more modern day dictators take control and maintain it through the use of the latest technologies and digital networks. Information control and “shaping the mind of the people” are definitely key factors in any dictatorship or similar power structure. Now that information has the ability to flow more freely online, dictators must take severe measures to restrict the digital flow of information and manipulate it to make the people think they are getting what they need and, more importantly, what they want.
I would agree with you that Putin is following a similar path as Hitler, at least as far as manipulating technology to control and suppress the people. But until now I had not heard such an opinion about Snowden. It is very troubling to think that he may have gone from being a potentially important figure in information freedom and civil liberties to being a possible servant of the opposite—a terrible dictatorship.
I feel like these two issues—that of the nature of the digital divide, and that of the ability of dictators to maintain control and suppression through manipulating technology—are like two heads of a many-headed monster, a hydra of Greek mythology. Every time we think we have managed to kill one of these heads—one of the newest problems that emerges from the development of new technology—two more issues rise up to take its place. It is as you say, that we are becoming more connected and more empowered, and at the same time facing new and more numerous problems that must be defeated.
But such is the nature of technological advancement. It saves us time and effort in one area, allowing us to recognize more trouble and split our time to tackle each new issue. It is a situation that we will continue to face, at an ever more rapid pace, and one on which we must learn to work together in order to stay ahead of the flood.
Your post concentrates on authoritarian regimes in regards to limiting, or even skewing, information using the mediums of their day. However, they are not the only ones that use science and technology as “means of oppression.” In my opinion, no government, including democratic ones, wears “the white hat” when it comes to restricting and/or spinning access to information.
While many democratic societies have measures, many of them codified in laws of one sort or another, to force the disclosure of information, such as the United States’ Freedom of Information Act, those methods, legal and otherwise, don’t stop government actors from preventing access in the first place.
Thus, the masses need to know what they don’t know so they can force governments to reveal what they know. Since all governments – authoritarian, socialist, democratic and so on – restrict access to information, how did the masses learn what they didn’t know before Web 2.0? Simple answer: people talk.
And, if enough of the talking people agree on a plan of action, revolutions happen. That outcome isn’t dependent upon science and/or technology. Those two things might determine whether or not a revolution is successful, but even that isn’t a given. For example, Afghan rebels held off two of the world’s superpowers for more than a decade, and Vietnamese forces sent the U.S. packing in the 1970s.
In other words, governments don’t rise and fall because of science and technology. They might be “tools of liberation” but not the heart and soul of peace and freedom movements. Governments change because of the will of the people.
Sure, media-savvy dictators will use science and technology for something other than the common good, just as they always have in human history. However, the masses are still the most powerful force within humanity; they can overthrow any authoritarian regime if that is what they want to do.