December 3, 2016

Introducing the Digital Perspective

I’m a hypocrite.

Not the nasty kind, but the sort that says one thing and does another. One minute I love digital technology and the next I can’t stand it. I’m addicted to WhatsApp but terrified of Facebook. I laugh at selfie-taking dandies while secretly envying their social media likes.

I guess I’m an early adopter. Not of the technology, but the anxieties that come with it. You won’t see me cooing outside an Apple store for the next iPhone, but wailing every time they force me to update the T&Cs. But of course I’ve never actually read them.

Isn’t all this new technology overwhelming? I’m neither technophilic nor technophobic, but technically bemused. Augmented realities like Pokemon Go encourage people to leave their homes while virtual realities require them to stay well within. All I want to know is how to change the privacy settings on Facebook.

Join me as I try to make sense of our rapidly changing digital world. Welcome to the digital side of the e-nvironmentalist.

So, the obvious question: what does environmentalism have to do with digital technology? Easy really. Think of the flood of emails, notifications, articles, statuses, grams, tweets and snapchats you have come across today. It’s likely there’s been loads. Our digital environment is getting denser and it is about time we thought about the impacts on one of its most important resources: you.

Yeah you. You, who reads all the emails, is trapped within Facebook’s echo chamber and falls down the rabbit hole of Youtube’s auto-play functionality. All this information creates a scarcity of attention leaving you in a constantly distracted present.

Sound strange? Well it is an alternative way to think about digital technology. Alternative in a similar way to how ‘environmentalism’ was once used as a radical label to challenge ideas and norms about the right way to live and interact with our natural environment. Similarly, some of the ideas I will discuss aim to challenge perspectives most of us accept about our digital one.

Please do not mistake this for some 21st century equivalent of Rachel Carson’s 1962 environmental classic Silent Spring. Back then she rocked the world and brought an environmental perspective into mainstream conversation. You will quickly realize I possess nowhere near her astounding writing skill or critical insight. Neither am I comparing Facebook’s spread of lolcat videos or Breitbart news into our smartphones to dropping pesticide onto 1950s American suburbia. While some may consider such annoyingly cute or misogynistic content to be poisonous, my intention is not to draw direct parallels.

What I hope to do is shed light on emerging issues unique to or amplified by the digital age. There are the obvious ones you’re probably aware of: privacy, surveillance and friend requests that won’t go away. But how about attention theft, identity conflation or the impoverishment of thought? The digital realm is connecting us in profound ways and significantly changing how we live our lives. For better and for worse.

Along with my musings, I will also publish reviews of books and films that I consider will expand an understanding of our digital environment.

By adding my own thoughts into the mix, I hope to convince you of an emerging movement that seeks to understand how to better live with and understand digital, in a way that treasures human, and facilitates machine while nudging us all in the right direction forward.

Alex