Who really benefits from cybercultures?

I have recently finished reading Hand’s ‘Hardware to everyware: Narratives of promise and threat’ and once again I am mind-boggled at the impact that technological advances have had not only on the individual, but on a global scale. It feels as though my thoughts and feelings are now finely balanced on a see-saw as I am unable to decide on who cyberculture (as we know it now) ultimately benefits.

To quote Hand (2008):

“Power in digital culture indexes an increasing tendency toward the total surveillance and administration of society, now conducted through globally gathered and sorted information. The results of this will paradoxically be greater insecurity, an intense amplification of existing social divisions, and the consumerization of democratic citizenship” (Hand, 2008, p 39)

On one hand (excuse the pun), I am excited and optimistic about the opportunities that digital cultures will provide people with. It is truly thrilling that technology allows us to connect with people across the world that we would never have been able to without it. From this arises empowerment of the human race to achieve what may at one point have been unthinkable. As I have acknowledged in my previous blog posts it is almost impossible to imagine any real barriers to what can be achieved.

On the other hand, however, there are real threats and dangers that have arisen from our craving to introduce technology into everything. Similar to the real and physical world there are some negative and counteractive influences over digital cultures. An example of such would be the so-called “Dark Web” in which, metaphorically speaking, can be considered the digital equivalent of the underworld. Having conducted some brief research of the Dark Web, I learned that it can be summarised as an encrypted version of the internet where people can mask their true identities and locations to engage in online activity that would be considered inappropriate (if not illegal) in normal circumstances.

Hand would suggest that digital influence merely exaggerates and amplifies the characteristics of society. If true, then inevitably we will have to look beyond the romantic notion of technology as an enhancement to everything and consider the possibility that there may be unwanted implications too. I noted that Hand also made reference to global inequalities and the effect that digitisation has on widening gaps that exist between existing cultures. I was reminded of a personal experience from a few years ago when I was sat at a bar on the island of Boracay, Philippines. On one side of the bar sat a young English family whose 6 year old boy was entertaining himself by playing on an iPad. On the opposite side of the bar was a Filipino boy of a similar age who was trying to make money for his family by selling handmade personalised bracelets. It was a sobering experience to witness such inequality between to boys whose only main difference was the culture in which they grew up. Until now I hadn’t considered the role that technology played in creating this inequality.

I guess that I am concluding that as long as there is human influence in cybercultures then it is difficult to determine who ultimately benefits. Perhaps there is no sole beneficiary but instead a new set of opportunities and problems for everyone. And everything.


References

Hand, M. (2008). Hardware to everywhere: narratives of promise and threat. In Making digital cultures: access, interactivity and authenticity. (Aldershot, Ashgate): pp. 15-42.

 

2 Replies to “Who really benefits from cybercultures?”

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Stuart. And well done also for weaving-in ideas from the reading by Hand.

    Something I particularly like about your work here is the recognition of the complexity surrounding the digital and education and society. As we’ve touched on during the film festival, technology so often seems to be framed in a utopian/dystopian binary: in contrast you expressed your own enthusiasm for the digital whilst recognising that it also has its darker side. At the same time you’ve made the point (by drawing on Hand) that we need to see digital technologies as enmeshed with society and human, rather than imagine that they exist in some form of vacuum.

    I was also intrigued by your point about inequality and I imagine this idea might resurface in the other blocks within the course. Your anecdote reminds us that we need to be really careful in making sweeping judgements about access to technology within education. We so often hear a technological determinist position which argues that education needs to adapt in order to keep up with the technical interests and abilities of learners: but in this clamour to embrace the digital, who gets left behind? I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see Dirk’s blog however like you he has been exploring ideas around inequality and society and seems to be making the point that the effects of transhumanism might not be felt equally across society.

  2. Who really benefits from cybercultures? – Reading this I thought of switched off labour and Manuel Castells http://www.geof.net/research/2005/castells-network-society

    In my opinion digital cultures seem to further empower the highly networked and skilled allowing them to do more by marshalling hitherto unavailable resources. For those who aren’t at the top end of the bell curve we end up scrabbling around underemployed whilst trying to avoid being unemployed.

    We do get to see some amazing videos of cats though.

    Another thing I picked up on was – “It is truly thrilling that technology allows us to connect with people across the world that we would never have been able to without it.”

    What do we mean when we say connect? Do we mean just be able to contact people cheaply and quickly, which digital technologies certainly allow. Or do we mean understand other people and be aware of how we interrelate to each other in our daily lives? It is this kind of “deeper” connection that I am not so sure digital technologies automatically encourage. The key word in your sentence for me is allow. Just because the connection is possible does not mean it is guaranteed.

    This lecture opens with an exploration of the importance of the word connection in relation to digital cultures. You might find it interesting: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/class-connections-and-disconnections-digital-age

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