Lizzie O'Shea discusses digital self-determination as a means to understand and resist some of the problems with big tech, using the rubric of Fanon's work on self-determination. How can we have agency and create our own identity under the thumb of the big surveilling platforms?
Digital self-determination will involve:
- making use of the technical tools available to communicate freely
- designing information infrastructure in ways that favour de-centralisation
- designing online spaces and devices that are welcoming
I definitely like all the conclusions. At first blush, any comparison between colonialism and racism and the problems of digital platforms feels like it could be a little crass… but O'Shea explains her thinking and says she feels Fanon's ideas are so strong that they can be applied to different times and situations.
"From the Algeria to algorithms, Lizzie O'Shea argues that Frantz Fanon’s ideas have much to offer us as we seek to understand, and resist, some of the most profound challenges of living in the digital age."
Frantz Fanon, the writer and psychiatrist born in the French colony of Martinique, is perhaps best known for his contribution to our understanding of race and colonialism
Fanon’s ideas around self-determination have much to offer us as we seek to understand, and resist, some of the most profound personal challenges of living in the digital age.
Fanon provided an explanation of how colonialism works – how both the colonizer and the person being colonized take on roles and practices that make colonialism seem inevitable and unbeatable.
These arguments continue to find applicability after his death because, I argue, the questions Fanon grappled with continually re-present themselves, namely: how do we create ourselves in a world in which our identity is pre-determined for us?
Those that hold power over our digital lives, from private industry and government, do so in a way that is almost hegemonic
There was no agency in how his identity was determined; no way to escape the judgments about him; no sense that he possessed autonomy.
Digital self-determination will involve making use of the technical tools available to communicate freely.
But it will also require that we enjoy autonomy from manipulation by the vast industry of data miners and advertisers, which tries to shape our identity around consumption.
We need to change legal structures around data and its use, and design information infrastructure in ways that favour de-centralisation, rather than centralisation in the hands of government and corporations.
Digital self-determination must also be about designing online spaces and devices that are welcoming, and give us control over our participation rather than creating a dynamic of addiction.
Even in a technologically-saturated world, in which human beings are categorised, surveilled and discriminated against, it is possible for us to carve out space for our own identity and shape our destiny.