No Escape: The Ramifications of Web 2.0 and Digital Connectivity

Building off of our dismal discussion from last week’s class, our readings by Robert Gehl and Preston C. Russett addressed some of the side-effects of our continuing corrosion of privacy. Gehl’s The Archive and the Processor: The Internal Logic of Web 2.0 outlined the cost of the instantaneous connectivity afforded to us via sites like Twitter and Facebook. In order to ensure the immediacy of communication, massive data servers and banks must be set up in order to collect and send our respective messages and other information. Gehl goes on to explain that this dichotomy means that years worth of our digital exchanges are archived due to the sheer amount of information exchanged between the millions of Internet users.

The value of our information does not go unnoticed by these companies and, through mining our data, they are able to make millions of dollars in selling our information to interested third-parties. Worse is that we essentially allow these unethical transactions to take place by agreeing to the Terms of Service documents on sites like Facebook. Through fluent use of legalese, many users have been effectively blinded to the true intentions of these Web 2.0 services. In light of events spurred by WikiLeaks and people like Edward Snowden, it seems that people aren’t as oblivious, however the incredible convenience that comes along with being a Facebook user makes it too alluring to leave easily. Gehl cites Mark Zuckerberg’s interview with CBS reporter Leslie Stahl in which Zuckerberg creates an active profile for her and, within moments, a long-lost friend manages to find and friend her. The speed and exhilaration that comes with such interactions on Facebook are what arguably keep users coming back for more, with the expectation of there always being something new either on the News Feed or in the form of messages, notifications and new photos or video. Hours upon hours can mindlessly be passed thanks to the massive amount of visual and textual data available among a single user’s hundreds of Facebook friends.

As an avid net user, I can admit that I know most of my information is being used and stored for the sake of some corporation’s profit. And I’m kind of OK with it. Why? Because the affordance of the Internet as a tool outweighs the growing absence of privacy for me. So, in reading Russett’s considerably darker and sardonic article, I found myself chuckling. Of course we are seemingly living in a real-life version of George Orwell’s 1984, there is no advancement made possible without some form of payment. Anyone who operates believing that we could be so effortlessly, so immediately connected to one another without piquing the interest of governments and corporations is gravely naive. Capitalism thrives on us as consumers and tracking things such as our “likes”, our searches and our location make it easier than ever to sell us things — things that we are typically interested in, despite the fact that we might not actually want to buy them. Furthermore, there are counterbalances available for all Internet users to utilize, add-ons such as Ad Block or Social Fixer. These services only help users sift through all the marketing and consumer-driven content, but don’t stop Facebook or other sites from harnessing your clicks and information. The bleak tone of Russett’s essay was somewhat overwhelming, but understandably so. However, I found that his argument was too one-sided and didn’t take hacktivist groups like Anon or whistleblowers such as Snowden into account. The digital age has only begun; there is still time for radical change. Our trajectory really depends on the knowledge of the masses and how willing we are to find the truth. The answers are, in my opinion, right in front of us, but we have to want to open our eyes to actually see them.

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