Jonathan Wolfe | Manifesto

1. As the information of the world moves to increasingly digital platforms, access to these platforms should be thought of as rights, not privileges.

The education and business worlds have gone digital. Computers are used as a platform for school assignments not just in university settings, but in public schools as well. In the professional world, being tech savvy can make all the difference between being hired or passed over in favor of someone who is. I’d be willing to bet that each one of us in this class lists several marketable skills on our resume that we learned as a direct result of our access to digital technologies.

There is a good amount of data out there backing up this idea that technological access is critical for personal success in 2013. An estimated 100 million Americans have no way of accessing the internet at home. For these people, keeping up in an increasingly digital world is extremely difficult, if not impossible. For example, 80% of Fortune 500 companies only accept online job applications. High school students with internet access have a 6-8% higher chance of graduating. According to an analysis by the Interne Innovation Alliance, consumers often save up to $8,000 per year by using online resources to find discounts in a number of areas (retail, apartments, etc.).

Surely there are more statistics out there to illustrate this truth, but the point is this: computer and internet access are expensive yet increasingly necessary to successfully function in society. The current cost of attaining access to these things further disadvantages those in our country (and world) who are already the most underprivileged. We cannot claim to be a just society if we block, via the price of accessing technology, many from even having a chance to succeed.


2. Humans should consciously examine our relationship with technology, both globally and locally.

We’ve spent this entire semester discussing technology and our relationship with it. As we all know by now, technology is changing what it means to be a human in many ways. Our lifestyles, mental habits, and institutions are all being drastically changed by technology. Technology’s impact on society will only increase in the future. It is, without a doubt, one of the most profound and prolific sources of change in our world. Yet compared to other change-inducing forces in our world (politics & economics, for example), technology receives little criticism or public attention. It receives plenty of attention (maybe too much) from a marketing/consumerist perspective, but not enough from a perspective that criticizes its impact on the human experience.

In the future, technologies impact on nearly every aspect of life will be so drastic that an unexamined acceptance of new developments may very well get us into some very, very sticky situations. Starting at a young age, people should be taught to critically examine their use of technology and its affect on their life. This critical examination should not only be encouraged in the general public, but also in academia as well. In an article titled “Examination of digital technologies must become central to social science research,” author Deborah Lupton notes the dearth of sociological research on the impact of digital devices in our world. We need to change that going forward.


3. We should never become entirely dependent on digital technology to survive.

This is an idea that we have discussed in class several times. If we as a species become totally dependent on digital technology to survive, we are putting ourselves in an unnecessarily bad position if anything involving our power grid goes wrong. But if, on the other hand, we still learn to how to live in the absence of digital technology, a malfunction in our grid would be less threatening to our basic ability to survive. People should still be taught how to write and paper copies of essential documents should still be stored. We should still be encouraged to memorize how to get from place to place even if a GPS can direct us there.

I view this proposal as an insurance plan. Even if we never have to use these old school ways of doing things, they will still be worth knowing and preserving. Think of them as
back-up plans.

4. We should not view technological development as an unalterable process.

Many believe that technology develops with its own volition and follows an unalterable pattern of development. Kevin Kelly states his belief in this idea in his book What Technology Wants:

“Inventions and discoveries are crystals inherent in the technium, waiting to be manifested,” he writes. “There is nothing magical about these patterns, nothing mystical about technology having a direction…The vortex of the technium has grown its own agenda, its own imperative, its own direction.”

I would argue that we should avoid accepting this idea as a society. If we believe that technology moves with its independent will and motives, it is more likely to actually do so. By accepting this idea that technology moves independently, we unnecessarily relinquish a level of regulatory control over what happens with technology in the future. Other cultures (the Amish and the old Japanese Samurais, for example) show that we are not forced to accept any and every new tech development that we stumble upon. It is not necessary to take as extreme of a stance of the Amish, but we should make an effort to preserve the idea that we develop technologies and have the power to change their course of development.

What Technology Wants

5. Social interaction via digital mediums should not be viewed as an equal alternative to physical interactions.

We use the word ‘social’ very liberally when speaking of our digital interactions. We’ve talked in class many times about how easy it is to stay in and game or browse the internet rather than going out and interacting with people in the real world. While these digital entertainment activities certainly have their perks and appropriate uses, they should never be viewed as an equal replacement for face-to-face social interaction. I believe the social skills and relationships developed via physical interaction are important to being a well-rounded human. A number of studies (see source) confirm that overuse of social media in the place of physical social interaction is detrimental to mental well-being. There a number of aspects of physical social interactions that are not as present in digital social interactions (empathy, body language, etc)

I have no doubt that digital entertainment will get increasingly more entertaining in the future. But regardless of how fun the digital entertainment world gets, we should still recognize the value of physical social interaction and encourage its occurrence.


6. Net neutrality should be viewed as an essential aspect of the internet’s structure.

This proposal is smaller and more immediate in scope than the rest of my statements. For those of you not familiar with the net neutrality debate, net neutrality is a principle that says governments and ISP’s are required to treat each site/piece of data on the internet as equal. That is, your ISP cannot charge you more money when you visit one website than any other (i.e. charging you more when you visit Netflix than when you visit Youtube). Several major telecomm companies (Comcast, Verizon) are trying to abolish net neutrality, claiming that it costs them more when you access sites with large amounts of data. The kickback to this idea is that ISP’s could favor one business over another by charging different rates to access their respective sites. In this situation, the internet would cease to be a neutral platform for business.

Giving preferential treatment to certain internet entities while disadvantaging others will create an environment devoid of the fundamental principles of a fair market. As the world of innovation and business increasingly takes place on the internet, it is incredibly important that the internet remains a neutral place for both browsers and businesses.