Labels often set the narrative, or so liberals would argue. It's why they express deep concerns about the ways language is formed. Language can be used to divide, debate, and ensure that certain people and ideas are marked out of bounds or deemed acceptable, just by what surrounds them.
We worry so much about words, and so rarely about the places we place them. Sure, online your words can be used against you. Weapons in the wait, waiting to be taken out of context. But what about the store houses of words? These books we fill with digital prose. Do we speak of them as weaponry?
A gun is a piece of technology. By itself, it sits lifeless. In the hand of a criminal, the gun shapes intention. In the hand of a police officer, soldier, frightening home owner in the middle of the night, the narrative is different. There's a reason these many users pick up the gun. It's not because it remains lifeless and intentionless, it takes form through what it is capable of.
Platforms, and more specifically, their owners, are the holders of powerful weapons. Seemingly intentionless, harmless data stores, just ripe with potential. Waiting to be set off. An algorithm can be used to change housing prices, get your eyes to see a product to buy, shift elections, alter the mood of the person being pushed negative or positive articles.
The algorithm is a complex, and complicated weapon because the intentions of those who make them are unknown (sometimes even to the authors). It is why liberals (and conservatives as well to a different extent) are so concerned about the words they quantify, the metadata, the ability to codify -ism's, separate -ist's, and produce digital ghettoes that mirror the real world. Ensuring future division in the name of eye traffic through invisibly walled gardens.
Technology shapes our perceptions. It shapes the way we interface with huge pieces of the world. What we buy, where we go, where we walk; influencing every blade of grass we'll pass and molecule of air inhaled.
Raw, faceless, innocent technology (there's no such thing) does amazing things without us even noticing. How best to shape our technology than to wield maximal power? That's been the path of Silicon Valley the last decade. How best, to shape consumers to "improve their lives " by capturing dollars and tunneling them to the few from the many. Dollars and eye traffic in exchange for conveniences .
A small example
You want a website.
I can build you a website.
I can do all the work myself.
I can do all the work myself to build you a website in WIX.
I can give you the website and you'll never need me again (you didn't already there).
However, this convenience comes at a cost. You'll never be able to stop using them .
You want to be educated.
I can educate you.
You enroll in classes, pay tens of thousands of dollars to get access to me.
I'm allowed to educate you in exchange for monetary compensation that barely allows me to make a living as a knowledge expert.
You want to learn. I want to teach. Structures limit this effectiveness.
Worse, you need to learn. You can't move in society without learning. You. Need. Me. My knowledge. My expertise. My ability. And yet, you can't have it unless you sign away the next 10, maybe 15, at times 20 years of your life to ensure that you can have a future .
Was, the positioning of the information behind the institution, a weapon? Did it have grave negative impacts on you just because we force technology to flow in a way that replicates this power flow dynamic?
What's limiting in both scenarios is that an organization has abstracted you away from what you want. You want access to the individual with the knowledge. You want access to the thing at the end, and yet there is no technology to get you there or a gap too wide for you to cross on your own.
And in each case, knowledge has failed you. It's been weaponized against you. Those with knowledge, able to manipulate (financially, eye traffic) those without.
Such a cruel marketplace.
A cruel world.
(said tongue in cheek, I want to make it very clear how anti free college I am so that this next line is not taken out of context)
What if College was free ? What if we didn't need to pay for College and instead just got College service for free.
What if Wix was free? What if we didn't need to pay for Wix and instead just got Wix service for free.
Who has the most to gain in this scenario? The codification of knowledge brokering into the fabric of society . Saying that an institutional need is important for individual success.
Is this so? Or is this the false reality we've been handed?
Must we implement solutions of the future based on structures of the past?
Or can we go another way..
What if we constructed technology to not live with the institution or the corporation, but to live with the individual instead? Why is it we accept that a computer can live in our hand and conform to our desires but yet access to information or the ability to self publish. Those.. those COULDN'T POSSIBLY be done without institutions, organizations, and corporations. What happened to the text-editor, note-pad, the calculator, the web browser itself? Why is it we expect these to be free, the windows to low fidelity self expression on the same playing field as the portal to information across the world. These applications are free... why not additional levels of abstraction up from them?
How could we, the little people, ever be able to compete with the faceless mega corporations of our world? These Gods of our copybook heading. These titans of industry.
It's simple. We don't play their game. And the game; is that central structures exist and are funded and thus must continue to exist and continue to be funded. There's no reason you need to continue going to traditional academia, but the belief that people do, keeps it going. Historical trends dictating future ones indefinitely.
There's no reason you need to keep paying for websites that lock publishing capabilities with no export or migration methods. To be bilked into thinking that because organization X recommends institution Y uses corporation Z's product, we must all.
"You can't do it on your own, you need us" the demons of industry beckon.
That's just what they want us to think; need, us, to, think.
"We empower them, they do not control us" to quote a line from a house genre song I enjoy.
It's that simple an idea.
If we intentionally build solutions that stem from the individual, could we eliminate the power structures at play? If we can make personal ownership convenient, powerful, highly usable, "easy", accessible, visually appealing, and locally controlled... will power flow away from the powerful and back to the people. When privacy and empowerment are more than ideals but more convenient then giving them away... will we walk away from the powers of the past and empower the individuals of the future?
Can we reclaim publishing? Education? Knowledge construction? Media production? Can we claim all of these spaces, returning them to the individual and defeat authoritarian edtech in the process?
We live in a technologically weaponized age. It's time we bring a pen to the gun fight and write a new future without them.
This post, and this website, were written with HAX using HAXcms . My pen. Our weapon.
Ex plures, plures.