AMDG

The Internet needs ‘saving’ from its current direction or we are heading into a digital nightmare of radical transparency and exhibitionism.  This was the basic theme presented at a fascinating discussion at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday evening as Andrew Keen was promoting and discussing his new(ish) book ‘Digital Vertigo’ .  Keen, now in his early fifties, is one of the pioneering generation of digital entrepreneurs who is expressing alarm at the direction the internet is taking, with particular criticism for Facebook, he warns us that we are entering an age of unprecedented exhibitionism, which will be damaging for many. Most of us in the audience were Digital Immigrants (i.e. we remember life before the internet!) unlike the younger generation of Digital Natives who will feel the full force of the agenda to socialise the internet.  According to Keen, Silicon Valley  has written off privacy as being something archaic.  My experience in recent years of working as a chaplain and a teacher was how important it is to encourage my students to use Facebook / Twitter / You Tube prudently.   They need to realise that by putting, drunken, half-naked photos onto social network sites they are making themselves hostages to fortune.  The world is assessing our identity by what we leave online and the internet doesn’t forget!  Future employers will be very interested in finding out as much as they can about who they are about to invest in.

 

Andrew Keen – a weary wisdom

Reflecting on the stimulating evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the idea of ‘structural sin’.  Facebook / Google claim that they are providing a public good, they are trying to change the world and there is a lot of powerful evidence that there is some truth in that (Arab Spring, Charity Fundraising, Linking Isolated communities).  However there is a lie at  the heart of the agenda,  Facebook is making huge amounts of money at selling our private data to companies, it is a profit driven organisation not a public good.  It seems to me that this exploits the worst vulnerabilities of adolescents as they attempt to build a circle of friends,.  As we all know, as we are growing up we make mistakes, we experiment with who we are we, what we stand for.  My generation of Digital Natives are fortunate because those mistakes, the embarrassing things we did or said were done in private and are forgotten about.  The internet does not forget and therefore (as the point was made excellently yesterday) can’t forgive.  If the internet doesn’t learn to forgive it will be a dystopia – rather than the utopia that the first wave of internet entrepeneurs envisaged and hoped for.

Yes you can live without Facebook!

The final thing I have found myself reflecting on is what was said about ‘confessional’ culture.  Little did Andrew Keen know that sitting in the audience was a Catholic Priest who had spent nearly 2 hours in the confessional this weekend. It seems that as we are a city-centre church people come from all over Edinburgh to use the confessional here, I have found it a vibrant and very consoling ministry.  But that private confession, one to one, with the inviolability of the seal, has a profoundly healthy and healing dynamic. The confessional, ‘all out there’ culture, cheered (and jeered) on by reality TV, Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, is damaging and exploitative, and as more of us live ‘on’ line there is a danger that we become more self-revelatory.  This pressure towards inappropriate self-disclosure must be resisted, otherwise we are ultimately being made fools of (like Scotty in Hitchcock’s Vertigo hence the title of the book). So thank you Andrew Keen –  I found him full of a weary wisdom, but feel his analysis is important, pragmatic, and he probably wouldn’t like this but redolent with a disguised and reluctant compassion.  I am going to buy his book!