Ranting through the Black Mirror: has digital technology changed us?

So I’m getting back into the tweeting, blogging, and general online world after a few weeks of withdrawal. It’s interesting how even when your own life gets put on hold, drawn into a microcosm of family emergency, the online world continues- ever-updating, posting, and flowing through the digital connections of a whole globe!

Anyway, enough digital philosophy- let’s get on with it.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to sum up the general thoughts I have for the topics over the last few weeks. Whilst they cover a broad range of issues- selfies, sexting, social activism, and digital heritage- they have all highlighted ways in which digitisation is becoming intrinsically connected to all facets of the human experience.

The other night my father-in-law began to have a bit of an old man rant about selfies. A few months ago I would have unquestioningly agreed with him and joined in the dissing. But after the close evaluation of digitisation I’ve been involved with over the last couple of months, I decided instead to question him about it. What exactly was it that he had a problem with?

And it was this- the self-obsession; the concern with image, and vanity, and identity. Fair enough I said, but, these issues and concerns are nothing new. Humans have been gazing in the looking-glass as long as they have been self-aware, and have been conscious of their social standing since we started beating each other around the head for dominance. The selfie may provide a new tool for people to explore and/or exploit their vanity and identity-formation, but it certainly hasn’t suddenly given birth to this human compulsion. And just like any tool it can be good or bad; harmless fun or consuming obsession; it can build someone up, or break them down.

In many ways the internet and the digital realm has merely provided new ways in which we explore the gamut of human experiences; whether it is self-image, or relationships, connections with society, with culture, with the future, the past, or the present. Digital technology may be changing the ways in which we experience and explore these issues, but it is not changing human nature, which seems to be a common fear of it.

It is certainly a fear I had when I sat on the bus many years ago and saw the black mirror sucking the attention of all the passengers away from the beautiful sunrise I was watching. And there is definitely the potential with digital technology to warp and absorb an individual’s reality, but that can be said of TV, or books. And both of those things can be wonderfully entertaining, enlightening, and provocative. So it is not all bad.

The use of digital technology to preserve cultural heritage and enhance the reach of social activism, are brilliant examples of digitisation being incorporated into positive social constructs. So often the focus is on its use in negative ways, or ways which arouse fear (such as sexting), but it is important to keep a balanced perspective on its many uses.

The topics over the last few weeks have given us just a few examples of the ways in which digital technologies have been incorporated into our society, the possible benefits and detriments, the fears and potential over its use, the amplification it provides, and the new avenues of exploration. But what I have realised through exploring these issues is that, despite my initial reservations, digital technologies have not fundamentally changed us. We are still the same, with all our flaws and perfections, and digital technology just provides us a new way in which to explore those.

And that’s it for me today, nothing fancy, just a little rant into the black mirror to see what might get reflected back my way.





Author: jscamilleri

I write fantasy, graphic novels, and young adult fiction.

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