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Freedom in the digital age

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When Big Brother Has All The Cards…

It is clear to many that modern digital society includes at best trading away one’s private life in exchange for fleeting novelty and convenience. At worst, we’ve industrialized profiting off people’s self-destructive traits to infantilize humanity mentally, socially, and even spiritually. These troubles have been long in the works, with minor exchanges here and there, but now the situation is dire and escalating.

Just as some people were beginning to grasp how large social media giants manipulate their feeds and minds for profit, an entirely new game has arisen. Companies hyping up their cloud “AI” chat interfaces as a substitute for any and all means of properly navigating information online. Google has been caught in a sticky situation where its search would return ridiculous answers to ordinary queries. This is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the web may be transformed if the public acclimates to this form of finding information.

It’s easy to hyper-fixate on the flawed use of “AI” in its present, quirky form. In doing so, one can completely fail to see how to overall trend is moving against people’s ability to find information online, or even use their own devices. Not to be outdone, Microsoft decided to eliminate any doubt that the Windows operating system is spyware. Announcing a new feature called “Recall AI”, the system is intended to take at least a dozen screenshots per minute, potentially building a very complete user profile to be sold, or stolen off the device.

There is a frustrating sense of apathy and defeatism when these stories make headlines. Some will remark the creeping risk created by more surveillance and control, but ultimately many will simply shrug these concerns off like they have done in many other instances. Worst of all, those who do recognize some danger from these threats and encroachments will retreat into total nihilism and exclaim “nothing is really secure” or the all-time classic “they can get you anyways”. While both of these statements are indisputably true, it’s wildly irresponsible to treat every security problem as a reason to care less.

In the spirit of being charitable, I don’t believe the large numbers of people who are apathetic about privacy, ignorant about security risks, or even dismissive of concerns have malicious intent. It seems more likely that much of this is a form of learned helplessness developed over the long course of attempting to adapt to technological intrusion. Just as those who reject propaganda outright may feel weary from incessant long-term exposure, those who are subjected to digital slights may too regret them piling up.

It is not hopeless. It is easy to feel completely at a loss of what to do or where to go next. The solution involves identifying a guiding star to follow towards the right direction. That guiding star is Digital Autonomy. Which is the acknowledgement our natural rights such as bodily autonomy, freedom of conscience, as well as life, liberty, and happiness are not void in cyberspace. Protecting these natural rights in cyberspace requires more careful consideration of various technological systems and strategies.

Understanding Digital Autonomy

A simple definition of digital autonomy is the ability to retain awareness and control over your own affairs in the digital space. This requires not only for systems and devices themselves to be transparent and consistent, but this also requires community stewardship and education. Many systems and devices are defective by design in a variety of ways. Manufacturers will often impose restrictions to protect their interests at the user’s expense, or online marketplaces can restrict you from content you’ve paid for or remove it entirely. These concerns sound trivial when applied to media, but are far more nefarious when it comes to personal devices or vehicles spying on you for a variety of entities. On the road we’re taking, many goods are beginning to resemble smartphones in all the wrong ways.

Your digital belongings need to begin to more resemble your analogue possessions. When you use a notebook, you’re likely not confused by the pages or lines inside it. It is not miraculously working to profit some other entity at your expense, and it is wholly yours as long as you choose to keep it. You have the ability to share it entirely, or even in individual sections, even sharing them with the wider world. Of course what is shared can generally be hard to un-share, but at least the choice is yours to begin with.

In many cases it isn’t really about rebuilding everything, but merely how various tools are used and reworking particular features. Even relatively simple things go a long way to enhance a person’s digital autonomy while using a system, such as intuitive menus that allow data to be painlessly exported. As more and more people learn to expect these simple methods, they can be further refined to synergize with existing solutions for an even better experience.

Unfortunately, many of the ideal solutions don’t quite exist yet, or not in an easy to substitute way. As the public became accustomed to getting work done on cloud solutions, many offline-first workflows have largely faded into distant memory. There is a great deal of power to be regained as people rediscover, build or learn ways of doing computing work on their own systems without outside interference.

Despite what defeatists would have you believe, it is possible to build genuinely empowering technology. None of it would have ever been popular at all if there wasn’t a spark of ingenuity that drew people in the first place. With a relatively small investment in education, experimentation and encouragement, we could transform the digital landscape to be entirely unrecognizable. Too many assume that a radically better digital future involves no online interaction at all, this is too pessimistic. It’s entirely about setting the proper boundaries so that meaningful interactions are enhanced by new tools rather than governed by them.

Digital Autonomy Is About More Than Tech

It is undeniable that the Internet has encroached too far into people’s lives. It has gone so far that people in entirely unrelated domains feel the pressure of looming technocracy. I would encourage you to imagine how a vastly better digital ecosystem would impact your passions in life. As part of this conversation, I’ve had the pleasure of hosting many conversations with people about how technology intersects with their passions to gain a finer understanding of these issues.

Digital Autonomy and Resilient Living

For those who are more off-grid it can be interesting to discuss the finer points of being connected to the wider world. I hope you’ll enjoy this broadcast with Rebecca!

Digital Autonomy and The Arts

I am blessed to know many wonderful artists. They were generous enough to launch the digital autonomy discussions with me, and for that I am grateful.
You can watch the entire playlist on PeerTube

If you are at all interested in taking part, please consider contacting me.

I would be pleased to connect with passionate individuals who are interested in sharing their challenges and hopes when it comes to how technology impacts our lives.

Please provide a short summary of your passion and what you’d like to discuss!

Take Charge

It’s very easy to become overwhelmed. The goal isn’t to change everything all at once at the same time. Just like many other transformative changes in life, this is a marathon and not a sprint. You can make simple changes like using Free Software tools like LibreOffice, Blender, or Inkscape to create your own media and documents. Those who are more ambitious may want to try to run their own home server with a variety of services like FreshRSS, or even their own website. The hard part would be migrating communications away from mainstream providers like Facebook. This involves working together with others to negotiate what best fits those participating.

There is a lot of opportunity in experimenting with and learning the large variety of techniques that people already use to break free from the cloud. As time passes it may be easier to support new device manufacturers, or large software projects to really create radical change. The more work that goes into solving this problem the easier things will get. There is little need to be dogmatic or impatient with others, any collaborative success will go a long way towards shaping the future we want.

Gabriel

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Published: May 28 2024
Tags: Digital Autonomy Digital Autonomy Series Remoralization Hardware Software

Digital Autonomy & The Arts with Hunter Stabler

Feb 18 2024 Gabriel

Thrilled to have had an excellent conversation with Hunter Stabler about digital autonomy and the arts. We spoke about many different topics, ranging from Free Software, community, and the broader impact of social media. It was a pleasure to connect with somebody who’s taken many steps towards reclaiming their digital autonomy, and has such incredible talent. You can take a look at Hunter’s creations on his Pixelfed. We share an affinity for Blender Antennapod and XMPP.

Digital Autonomy & The Arts with Anne Gibbons

Jan 12 2024 Gabriel

I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss Digital Autonomy & The Arts with Anne Gibbons. Anne is a courageous cartoonist and an inspiration to those who want to learn to make their mark on the canvas of history. We discuss the unique challenges that impact our lives at the cross-section of digital autonomy and artistic expression. I really appreciated having a discussion with a creative and passionate voice with such a wealth of experience.

Digital Autonomy & The Arts with Margaret Anna Alice, Visceral Adventure & Liam Sturgess

Dec 13 2023 Gabriel

In what has become my most ambitious media project yet, I had the pleasure of hosting a conversation with people I look up to as among my personal heroes. The Digital Autonomy Series is now one of my favorite projects as it allows the Libre Solutions Network to truly start to live up to its name. Visceral Adventure I got to know Tonika through Operation Uplift. Her open mind, kindness, and drive are huge inspiration.


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