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.
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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.