Digital technology neither has intrinsic power nor autonomous power to transform society, especially in the area of knowledge that Aristotle described as “ethical knowledge “or perhaps “moral judgement.”
The decision, for example, of who will have access to electricity and who will not is beyond the powers of digital machines. The decision of whose SIM card will be deactivated or blocked is beyond the power of digital devices. Richard Dawkins in the “Blind Watch Maker” aptly noted:
Computers are complicated and obviously designed for a purpose, yet they are not alive, and they are made of metal and plastic rather than of flesh and blood.
Thousands of Ugandans have appreciated Dawkins’ insight over this past weekend when their SIM cards are deactivated or blocked on the basis of an order which the Uganda Law Society moreover found not supported by law.
As is the case with all other machines digital devices are mechanical – they process and retrieve information mechanically without passion. It is the user’s passion that is contained in the words that a digital device stores, retrieves and shares. The passion is not of the digital device, but that of the human beings who input the words into the device.
The use of digital technology is not ethically or morally neutral – the information that is fed into the machines is of man and it is man who selectively inputs this information into the machines. It is HIStory. Chinua Achebe is quoted in the New African Magazine (March 2012) aptly observing that:
Man is a story-making animal. He rarely passes up an opportunity to accompany his works and his experiences with matching stories. The heavy task of dispossessing others calls for such a story… Let us imagine that someone has come along to take my land from me. We could not expect him to say he is doing it because of his greed, or because he is stronger than I.
Digital devices and search engines will mechanically store whatever story from whomever, with no capacity to discern facts from falsehoods and will efficiently share them as widely. For your information the image that accompanies this post has a quote attributed to Einstein, that quote is a fabrication.
Another case in point is Invisible Children’s Youtube video: Kony 2012. While I have not watched it, I have read a lot about it and because I am in principal against making Kony a celebrity, I was selective to read only those opinions that criticised or debunked Kony 2012.
I mention Kony 2012 in this post so that it can go as viral as Kony 2012. I hope it gets widely read because it will likely be one of the links that the search engines shall provide in response to any searches on Kony and or Invisible Children. If you are going to influence society it is import to know the keywords to include in your story that will increase the chances that your story will be noticed by a search engine.
Allegedly, however, whenever one does a search on the internet the results that they will get are dependent on their previous searches and the geographical location from where they have initiated the search. This isolates us in our own ‘internet bubbles’ as Eli Praiser argues convincingly in his article published in the Guardian Weekly (24.06.11), titled:
In our own little internent bubbles: the personalisation of search engines traps us in a self-reinforcing world-view.
Apparently, when one conducts a search using Google, the results that one shall be fed are what Google has determined one wants to hear or read. So, according to Praiser’s analysis, if you are a white supremacist, such as Behring Breivik, Google will nourish your extreme views by showing you search results of sites or information that would be appreciated by white supremacists.
By isolating us in our ‘internet bubbles’ Google reduces opportunities that a white supremacist will encounter an alternative view, for example. And so in the bliss of ignorance it is no wonder Breivik believes his actions to murder and terrorise his fellow Norwegians to have been ‘necessary’!
Come to think of it, we do not hear much about Breivik anymore, because apparently, unlike the United States of America and Invisible Children, Norway decided that they were not going to allow a murderer and terrorist such as Breivik to attain celebrity status. He was denied open court proceedings.
Digital devices facilitate us to transform society, but it is us who retain the power to do so and to determine how so. Digital technology helps us to “carry the debate beyond the meeting room” to borrow James Shikwati’s words, in the introduction of the book: “Reclaiming Africa”, which he edited.
The primary power to transform society remains within human beings using machines – human beings who set up websites; human beings who manage websites; human beings who legislate the use of digital technology and with the power to deactivate SIM cards, unlawfully and otherwise.