Living in a Digital World: Our Manifesto

Preamble

In order to raise cultural awareness concerning the use of technology in our society, we, the students of Professor Collier’s class, collaboratively form these twelve statements. We seek to educate both future generations and our own by calling attention to the topics of: social media, privacy, transhumanism, technology in the classroom, digitizing literature, technology-addiction research, and regulation of the internet. The conscious decision to actively take charge of our lives by controlling technology without having it control us is the underlying theory in our following manifesto, developed during our course entitled Issues in Professional and Public Discourse.

Keywords

  • Privacy
  • Awareness
  • Transhumanism
  • Addiction
  • Regulation

Manifesto

We should not accept the notion of privacy as a convention of the past.

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In an interview with Andrew Keen for TechCrunch, Sherry Turkle talks about Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that “privacy is part of the discourse of the past.” She says, “I think it may be convenient for social networks to not have privacy, but I think that…What is intimacy without privacy? What is democracy without privacy? I think we’re starting to live in a world where things like that get said, but increasingly, we’re going to say, ‘no’.” We need to think of privacy as not only a necessary component of our lives, but as our fundamental right.

We adopted this principle because we agree with Turkle that “we have to start to reclaim and to teach our children the value of something like privacy.” We think that the general public has started to feel like in order to use websites like Google and Facebook, they inevitably must sacrifice their own privacy rights. And while, like Turkle says, it’s convenient for a social network to perpetuate the idea that “we don’t need privacy,” we need to realize the inaccuracy in that statement. Of course, in using social networking sites like Facebook, you inherently give up some privacy because you are voluntarily sharing information about yourself. However, Google, Facebook, and other sites actively violate people’s privacy rights in a different way: by collecting information on users.

If we make Google (and similar companies who collect information on users) realize that we’re not willing to use their product unless we retain privacy, then they won’t succeed. When we realize the value of privacy as an essential component of our society and as a fundamental right, then we allow ourselves power to determine how technological-based companies treat us. Also, if we encourage people to remember that privacy is not a “convention of the past,” then they will begin to more thoughtfully consider how other technologies degrade the value of privacy.

image source: sloppy2.blogspot.com

We ought to cease working towards transhumanism because “the loss of human biological limits is the loss of our humanity” (Munkittrick).

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We see transhumanism as one of the scariest possibilities in regards to future technological advancements. Transhumanism is simply an effort to try to circumvent death disguised as human progress. Death is a necessary part of life and so intrinsically part of humanity that when we can no longer die, we will no longer be human. Transhumanism will start with minor adjustments to human biology but could eventually lead to completely non-human robots. We ought to cease working towards tranhumanism because through it, we will lose our humanity.

We adopted this principle because while transhumanism may sound futuristic and far-fetched now, it will absolutely be a real possibility in the future. With so many technological advancements, we as a society don’t stop to consider the sociological effects until after the fact, at which time the technology has already been fully assimilated into our culture.

It is imperative that people seriously consider the implications and consequences of working towards transhumanism before the effort achieves major “successes.” If we cease working on transhumanism, then we can begin to accept as a society that a technological advancement or alternative isn’t inherently “better” than its natural version. For instance, there might be a technological “fix” for a faulty heart, but what about a faulty brain? At what point does “fixing” natural human biological deficiencies become completely erasing our humanity?

A future without obsessive efforts to circumvent death will lead to a future in which we can focus more on living happy, successful, fulfilling lives.

image source: theoccasionalceo.blogspot.com

Parents should limit the amount of time their children spend on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and educate them on what/how much information they provide to these sites and the people who can view the information.

With the excessive amount of time children are spending on social networking sites, we feel that parents need to monitor their online usage and monitor what the kids are posting about themselves. According to Turkle, “Thirteen to eighteen are the years of profile writing,” and, “students had to write one profile for their applications to middle school, another to get into high school, and then another for Facebook” (182). Children are putting too much information on their profiles which can be accessed by their peers, teachers, employers, and even strangers. Their posting of pictures of themselves can reveal their identity to unwanted persons, their location if the picture is uploaded from a mobile device, and can prove to be detrimental if viewed by prospective colleges or employers. Think about your children or other family members that fall into this age range and how horrible it would be if information they posted on Facebook got into the wrong hands and cause them harm in some way.

We believe society as a whole would benefit from parents being more vigilant about what their kids can and can’t do on social media sites. Not only can it be related to younger siblings, but it could also provide us with great guidelines regarding what information we allow our future children to incorporate into their online profiles and social networking sites.

Due to the distractions digital technologies offer, college students should limit their use of said technologies in the classroom.

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With Internet access available on so many devices these days students are always tempted to use them. These temptations do not last long because students will eventually check their phones, emails or Facebook. Giving into the technology causes distractions in the classroom for the professor, fellow classmates and even the students using the devices. Adopting this statement is easy because there is no need to use digital technologies in the classroom, unless the whole class is using them for a particular activity. The distractions that these devices cause can be avoided and would benefit both the student and other members of the class. We adopt this statement because having digital technologies in the classroom is not beneficial. There are those individuals that will argue against this statement saying that they are using these devices to take notes or that they have their books online. We argue that this is only a small percentage of the people that use digital technologies in class and regardless of the functionality the temptations are still present. Adopting this idea would have minimal effects on society because the only thing they would be giving up is their digital technologies for the time they are in class. Everyone has experienced the annoyance of other students using their computers or texting during the middle of class. This statement should be adopted because if these distractions are eliminated, the classroom will migrate back to a place for learning, instead of a place where people sit and chat or text while they should be learning.

image source: geekwithlaptop.com

We should encourage the digitization of academic materials, but preserve hard copies of literature, especially literature for children.

In Chapter 5 in Vaidhyanathan's The Googlization of Everything we learn about the possible future of books and the steps that Google has taken in attempting to digitize literature. Although having journals and other academic resources available for online use sometimes makes the research process quicker and more available, resulting in the overall betterment of academic work, we still disagree that all books should be converted to this format. As avid readers and advocates of literacy among children, we recognize that transforming all physical forms of literature into digital forms will significantly decrease the appeal of pleasurable reading for children and adults both. By only converting academic materials into a digital format, we maintain a hold onto the very powerful idea of curling up with a good book. If all forms of literature were only available online, people might begin to view reading as a chore completed only by sitting in front of one’s computer screen. Although the presence of e-readers are becoming more and more popular, it still doesn't seem to be enough to continue to encourage our younger generations to pick up books. Browsing through shelves upon shelves of books in a library is one of the best ways to facilitate a love for reading and to discover an obscure but amazing book. By converting books to digital formats, we are removing the ability to browse through stacks by only providing lists of titles and genres—it isn’t the same.

We should teach children basic programming in school, along with internet literacy and keyboarding.

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Schools are already integrating simple topics of internet literacy, such as how to perform a Google search and what to look for when trusting websites, into their curriculum. Beginner level programming should become a mandatory part of the elementary curriculum as well. Programming teaches basic logic, provides a framework with which to understand our increasingly digital world, and computational thinking. These skills are becoming more essential as greater portions of our lives go digital. When taught basic programming with concrete purpose, children as young as eight are capable of understanding and creating simple programs. If this is expanded throughout their education, by the time they graduate high school, they would have a basic working knowledge of how to write simple computer scripts and the underlying principles of how our digital society runs. Computer Science specifically seeks to obfuscate code, hiding the purpose within layers of complexity. This makes it harder to reverse engineer, but also means the basic user cannot trouble shoot programs running on their own machines. Just adding computer literacy as a core part of the school curriculum would greatly increase how much the next generation understood the world around them. While it would require a restructuring of the national education system, ultimately it would create a more technologically fluent generation that was better equipped to face the challenges unique to the digital age.

We adopted this principle because we see a need to overhaul how technology is taught in the classroom. We need to integrate it at the lowest levels of education, so that future generations will better be able to cope with the world we create. Current measures are not enough. When programming is only offered at the high school and collegiate levels, a large percentage of the population is never exposed, and as technology steadily advances, more and more of our world becomes incomprehensible to the majority of our nation.

image source: Kayla Vanderlin

Privacy policies and other consumer agreements should be written in simple English and shortened to an extent that the everyday consumer can understand them.

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Currently, most privacy policies, license agreements and terms and conditions are written in complex legal terms, incomprehensible to most users. These agreements govern how we interact with the technology, what we are allowed to do and what rights we are entitled to. Because of this, they should be written in language the average consumer is capable of understanding. The Plain English Movement is spearheading this endeavor. Websites such as Wikipedia have created articles in simple English, so others can better understand more difficult concepts; the Plain English Movement needs to be adopted on a larger scale. Since it would only require the rewriting of the agreements, the greater monetary implications of adopting such an initiative are more limited, but potential gain is incalculable. It would allow users to understand what they were agreeing to ahead of time, it would encourage them to read both the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of sites they give their information to. It would make it harder for companies to scam their users and create a more educated, aware and proactive user base.

We adopted this measure to help create a more user friendly internet, where people are informed about their choices. As our world becomes more abstracted, the importance of clarity and understanding becomes more critical. Already some websites such as Facebook and Google have started to adopt this measure. With widespread support, users would become more educated and better able to survive in out virtual future.

image source: telegraph.co.uk

We should do more studies and spread awareness of video game and internet addiction.

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From 2010 to 2011, the number of divorce papers that cited placing video games over relationship tripled (see link below). Websites like Wowaholics Anonymous chronicle the stories of addicted gamers and offer advice and services to help “recover” (www.wowacholics.org). Video games are intense, epic, and invigorating. They are entirely too easy to get sucked into. People need their escape time, but playing video games can often provide more stress than relief. Addiction to virtual stimulation shouldn’t be hard to imagine. We can observe the signs all around us. Many of us know people who throw video game controllers at walls or stay up all night playing WoW online. Having a conversation about these problems can be difficult because video games are often seen either as harmless fun or as violent and destructive. There is very little middle ground to be found in these conversations. That’s why we need to do more research to look into these findings. Claims are sometimes made such as “world of warcraft is as addicting as cocaine” that aren’t backed by any substance. Sociologists are attacking online video games from all angles, but often focus on the communities or economies that emerge within the virtual worlds rather than the effects that the games are having on people in the real world. Video games are just one manifestation of overstimulating entertainment media that surround us every day. They have advanced faster than our willpower has been able to keep up with, and we need to begin collecting more evidence of the effects and spread the word.

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We should resist government attempts to regulate the internet.

Siva Vaidhyanathan explains the idea of public failure on pages 40-43 of The Googlization of Everything. He seems to believe that state-sponsored institutions would fare better in creating a shift in mindset among the public. He seems to say that “feeling good about our own choices” is not enough, but that we must go the next step and be “organizing, lobbying, and campaigning for better rules and regulations” (43). Organizing and lobbying for better behavior are important for our society. However, the lobbying should not be for better “rule or regulations.” We should demand better standards and behavior from companies themselves and file suit against them when they infringe on our rights. We can buy stock in them, write glowing reviews, boycott them, or lobby against them and have a greater effect than appealing to a middleman. Markets will self-regulate themselves if given time and if consumers have enough information. The internet is the greatest tool mankind has found for disseminating information, and could therefore allow for more informed personal choice that actually makes a difference, like Vaidhyanathan wants. The irony is that regulating the internet will potentially put the clamps on reliable information sharing, which would hurt consumer choice and have unintended consequences on markets. The internet has by definition always been neutral and decentralized, and we should take it upon ourselves very seriously to keep it that way.

Parents should not let children under the age of 12 become involved with social media sites.

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As Graeme Paton says, “Children’s brains are failing to develop properly because of over-exposure to screen-based technology.” Exposing children to the digital world gives them and early dependency and addiction to such technologies. The reliance that most children observe from their parents and technology creates pressure on them in the first place. However, “a generation of children risks growing up with obsessive personalities, poor self-control, short attention spans and little empathy because of an addiction to social networking websites.” This is a scary thought considering how much of those traits are already seen in the current generation that has experienced both sides of this technological boom. Students who are studying cannot ignore their phone to even finish the sentence they were reading or typing. Attention spans last the length of time it takes to write a tweet, which is only 160 characters or less. The idea of the world being made up of this group of people only one generation behind yet on a whole next level of addiction is frightening. More so, what will happen to the children of the following generation? Adopting this idea would most likely create a lot of push back from society - for those who are already too far invested in their tech lives. However, limiting children from social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., would only relieve our society from a lot of the effects that have already been discovered in the social and cognitive development of children.

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At least half of all your books should be on paper and bound.

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We take this phrasing from the nutritional recommendation that, “half of all your grains should be whole.” We believe that for a healthy, intellectual lifestyle that half of all your books should be non-digital and tangible. Sure, sometimes it’s just more convenient for our fast paced lifestyles to grab a quick book on the go and just download it. At times it is even cheaper to grab an ebook from the value menu for Kindles and Nooks. However, we argue that you will find in the long run the benefits of paper books to be far greater. The digitization of books is something that Vaidhyanathan mentions in Chapter 5 of the Googlization of Everything with the copyright issues of Google Books. Even though Google might not have gotten exactly what they wanted in the settlement, the question of ebooks in regards to publishers, newspapers, magazines, libraries, etc. is not over. But we believe that it will be our generation’s job to see what the answer is going to be. Which, once again we repeat: at least half of all your books should be whole.

Andrew Piper talks about the importance of touch in reading paper books in his article, “Out of Touch: E-reading isn’t reading.” Being able to touch the pages, the book is more real, it invites you in to its world, while in the interface of the screen it blocks you. The story is behind the screen, in the hard drive, in the cloud, but not at your finger tips (per se). But as you read, each page become a part of your own property, even if you are able to highlight and make notes on an e-reader, you will never be a part of your psyche, your body as they are capable of becoming when you can touch them. Now we understand that language is untouchable, but the ways that we react to it are very physical. Also, going onto a menu screen to pull up a book, will never be the same as reaching for it from a bookshelf. For us, there is nothing more beautiful that a home can posses than a bookshelf.

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Search engines and web browsers ought to automatically include an easily accessible “Do Not Track” feature for people who don’t wish to have their browsing history tracked which can then manipulate advertisements and links that appear on their browsers windows.

Google Chrome recently adopted the Do Not Track feature which “allows users to tell advertisers to stop tracking their movements around the web and prevents advertisers from showing ads targeted towards them.” Two separate articles were located, both of which explained how the DNT functioned and why it was made available for public use; however, they also explain how complicated it is to access this feature. Members have to sign on to their Google Chrome account, access the settings page, access the advanced settings page, access the privacy page, and then check the Do Not Track option. For anyone who isn’t technologically savvy, this may prove to be too hard for them to find and thus they would not be able to activate the DNT option. Not to mention that the majority of users don’t even know this option is available to them. Also, since privacy issues are a matter of public concern, a company that didn’t offer the DNT option on their web browser would immediately be recognized as an agenda-ridden dictator, and a mass exodus by its users would most likely arise. Is it their moral obligation to provide this option? Not necessarily. They are in the first place providing a free product to anyone with the means to download it. Since public relations are incredibly important to companies such as Google, the DNT was incorporated into their browser options as soon as it became an issue. It’s a temperamental world on the internet and businesses simply have to know how to compete. We feel browser users should be notified of their right to enable changes such as the DNT option and that web browser providers should make the option more accessible to every one of its users. If everyone were given the opportunity and the knowledge about changing this option on their browsers, they could reject advertisements from companies they find harassing or lewd and they could prevent their browsing histories from being sold to advertisers who may display embarrassing or incriminating advertisements to others around you.

Closing Statement

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Works Cited

Brand, Kelly. "College Students Reveal Mixed Feelings about Laptops in the Classroom." NextGen Journal. George Washington University, 18 2012. Web. 16 Nov 2012.

Gilbertson, Scott. "Google Chrome Adds 'Do Not Track' Privacy Tools." Webmonkey. Wired Magazine, 7 Nov. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

Gilbertson, Scott. "Google Chrome Finally Jumps on the 'Do Not Track' Bandwagon." Webmonkey. Wired Magazine, 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

"Impact." US FIRST. FIRST, 17 July 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.

Munkittrick, Kyle. "Debating Extreme Human Enhancement." Future Tense. Slate Magazine, 13 Sep. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Paton, Graeme. "Twitter and Facebook 'harming children's development." The Telegraph, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Piper, Andrew. "Out of Touch: E-reading isn't reading." Slate Magazine, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Nov 2012.

"Plain English Campaign." Plain English Campaign, 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.

techcrunch. “Keen On… Sherry Turkle: Say No! to Zuckerberg .” Video. YouTube.com. Andrew Keen, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 6 Nov. 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry). Berkeley: University of California, 2011. Print.