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Data Consumers vs. Data Producers: Every Outspoken Expression is a Social Act

2015-09-13 in Uncategorized

As people who follow my writing on other forums probably know very well, I often post more theoretical / abstract articles on one of my personal blogs which I set up for my own personal opinions (see e.g. “Delusions of Grandeur“). Here, I intend to be more “practically” oriented — and in particular towards an audience without much experience with respect to online media.

This weekend I took part in a sporting event, and as is quite common at such events the group (all adult males) also socialized quite a bit afterwards. There was one moment in particular that I wish to focus on right now. One father mentioned that his son, after returning from a summer camp, had over 6000 notifications on some app on his smartphone… and he shook his head at how much time is being wasted on these “social media” applications. I neither agree nor disagree with what he said, but I noticed something I find absolutely fascinating. Almost all the other men who agreed with this man did so without really adding any nuance to the conversation — and I find that particularly noteworthy. In other words, all who raised their voice did so mainly in order to join the group of like-minded… more so than in order to make a new observation or unique statement themselves.

After thinking about this for some time now, I have come to the following conclusion. Very often — no: I would indeed venture to say it is always the case that when we express some opinion, we do so primarily in order to state our wish to belong to some group. We declare our territory, our pledge of allegiance, and thereby each of our expressions should be seen as a social act. It is a declaration of intent: We seek to be a part of a community. Although the similarity between the actions of the fathers and their children seemed to completely escape these parents, there is indeed something different about the two cases.

The fathers who voiced their opinions stood before me in flesh and blood. I could see the frustration and exasperation in their eyes, their voices carried nuances of engagement technology startups can only dream of. Notifications on smartphone apps, in contrast, are not expressions of individuals per se — they are little more than tiny micro-publications made by some Silicon Valley company. The group affiliation the children are engaging in is one of servitude: they submit their expressions to some corporate entity which they hope will publish this content on their behalf. Indeed: Many people use such proxies in order to preserve their anonymity, and many of these anonymous users could easily be classified as trolls. In this vein, such inauthenticity might also be linked to mobbing, bullying and other at least questionable types of engagement.

We can hardly blame naive children for such inauthenticity — especially if we are not telling them how engagement might be considered as more authentic (as I have alluded to above). I myself have long ago developed “authenticity guidelines” for use in online settings. Above and beyond that, we might also bring to attention the degree to which more inauthenticretard media” websites exist in order to satisfy consumer and/or “selfie” attitudes — and also the degree to which their profits (or at least their profit motives) are based on the exploitation of their subordinate users.

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