American pro-gun culture has it that guns don’t kill people, people do. As easy to extend this logic to social media and the internet there are serious issues with such comparisons.
Media guru Douglas Rushkoff says, ‘guns don’t kill people, but you can do a lot more damage with a gun than you can with a pillow’. He is referring to the inherent affordances of social media when it runs on an anti-human operating system designed for extraction and profit. More critical reflection of the social, cultural and contexts of the ecosystems that our social media platforms are connected to has gathered momentum over the past years, especially following the Cambridge Analytica saga and somewhat of a sense of crisis is growing about the power market backed social media has gathered, backed up by artificial intelligence gathered, by surveillance of our private lives and selling our innermost secrets to the highest bidder.
The process is not as much about knowing each one of us personally and individually but about lumping us in statistical baskets to turn us into prediction products for sale to advertisers. The connotation that we are walking around in a zombie-like 1984 apocalypse prediction product scenario usually offers up the stereotype of the teenager or millennial many of whom are approaching their 40’s) as evidence of what our devices are doing to us.
When the logic of surveillance capitalism mediates our every online conversation and herds us towards real-world market-driven outcomes there are real-world implications. Advertising is a has a powerful tendency to divide us to make us more open to looking towards consumables for comfort and reassurance rather than each other. The nature of digital is that it routes us this way or that, o or 1, republican or democrat, climate change or not when it is given over to the indifference of capital. The rise of performative presidents and the honouring of crass individualistic self-centredness narcissism is a logical result of the way social media has been gamified.
But what is scarier is the thought of not having any social media. If only the zealousness put into peoples right to bear arms was put into the right to bear phones.
Where the phones are thus intrinsically tied to the fabric of how we conduct our day to day lives it seems imperative that each person should have the ability to access phones without the punitive interference of corporate and state interests of so-called neoliberalism interfering. I was reminded of this recently on Facebook when a voice from the past started using Black Lives Matter scenarios to argue for the importance of mobile phones and a connection.
More often I’ve seen in the news lately about calls to have phones banned from schools and other institutions. The internet has democratising potentials and if it were not the case, we would not see the widespread calls from narcissistic interests to return to broadcast, gatekeeper, one-way, closed communication systems. Trump would love nothing better if he was the only person allowed on twitter while we all soaked up his directives.
Every new media has an incubation period before their democratising potentials are realised, often with the arrival of the next medium.