Tag Archives: non-optional

A New Privacy pt. I: Distributed Agency & the Myth of Autonomy

We're always connected, whether we're connecting or not.

Last month at TtW2012, a panel titled “Logging off and Disconnection” considered how and why some people choose to restrict (or even terminate) their participation in digital social life—and in doing so raised the question, is it truly possible to log off? Taken together, the four talks by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), Jessica Roberts, Laura Portwood-Stacer (@lportwoodstacer), and Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) suggested that, while most people express some degree of ambivalence about social media and other digital social technologies, the majority of digital social technology users find the burdens and anxieties of participating in digital social life to be vastly preferable to the burdens and anxieties that accompany not participating. The implied answer is therefore NO: though whether to use social media and digital social technologies remains a choice (in theory), the choice not to use these technologies is no longer a practicable option for number of people.

In the three-part essay to follow, I first extend this argument by considering that it may be technically impossible for anyone, even social media rejecters and abstainers, to disconnect completely from social media and other digital social technologies (to which I will refer throughout simply as ‘digital social technologies’). Even if we choose not to connect directly to digital social technologies, we remain connected to them through our ‘conventional’ or ‘analogue’ social networks. Consequently, decisions about our presence and participation in digital social life are made not only by us, but also by an expanding network of others. In the second section, I examine two prevailing discourses of privacy, and explore the ways in which each fails to account for the contingencies of life in augmented realities. Though these discourses are in some ways diametrically opposed, each serves to reinforce not only radical individualist framings of privacy, but also existing inequalities and norms of visibility. In the final section, I argue that current notions of both “privacy” and “choice” need to be reconceptualized in ways that adequately take into account the increasing digital augmentation of everyday life. We need to see privacy both as a collective condition and as a collective responsibility, something that must be honored and respected as much as guarded and protected. (more…)

Social Media: You Can Log Off But You Can’t Opt Out

We all know them: the conscientious objectors of the digital age.  Social media refusers and rejecters—the folks who take a principled stance against joining particular social media sites and the folks who, with a triumphant air, announce that they have abandoned social media and deactivated their accounts. Given the increasing ubiquity social media and mobile communications technologies, voluntary social media non-users are made increasingly apparent (though, of course, not all non-users are voluntarily disconnected—surely some non-use comes from a lack of skill or resources).

The question of why certain people (let’s call them “Turkle-ites”) are so adverse to new forms of technologically-mediated communication—what Zeynep Tufekci termed “cyberasociality”—still hasn’t been sufficiently addressed by researchers. This is important because abstaining from social media has significant social costs, including not being invited to or being to access to events, loss of cultural capital gained by performing in high-visibility environments, and a sense of feeling disconnected from peers because one is not experiencing the world in the same way (points are elaborated in Jenny Davis’ recent essay). Here, however, what I want to address here isn’t so much what motivates certain people to avoid smartphones, social media, and other new forms of communication; rather, I want to consider the more fundamental question of whether it is actually possible to live separate from these technologies any longer. Is it really possible to opt out of social media? I conclude that social media is a non-optional system that shapes and is shaped by non-users. (more…)