If we define citizenship as the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community, then digital citizenship in a free society must incorporate the value of liberty and the capacity to “stand alone” at times.
So when does being “connected” to the network actually bully the individual to give up independent thought? When the intimidation is so intense that there is only one option: “go along in order to get along”.
Eventually independent thought isn’t perceived as an option.
Cyberbullying is a good example of this phenomenon where it is not okay to be different (or disagree) because you become a target. In the consumer-oriented network, individuals are targeted to be manipulated by advertisements and enticements.
Teens, big data and community
Pew research just released a study that reveals how teenagers are handling private data. They are sharing a lot of personal information in social media apps, such as phone number, address, relationship status, and they are using the privacy settings to manage who sees their personal data.
Eventually, as we become more comfortable sharing private data, the individual elements of our personal identity (from preferences, to feelings, to purchase decisions and affiliations) entered into the data banks of the entities aggregating the personal data that “connect us”, the more vulnerable we are to manipulation by big data programs which don’t really care about the individual.
This is the power crisis of the individual in the network and gives one pause to think about the moral of Anderson’s novel: “Resist the feed.”
While we have been providing personal data in other data banks of banks, corporations and health insurance companies, there is a difference with social media. Social media companies use personal data to sell advertising. The potential for commercial exploitation is enormous.
We have seen this happen time and time again as Facebook continues to push for programs that allow third parties to use personal data to target individuals for advertisements and special offers.
It is a paradox of sorts to be connected to the network in a meaningful way, and still maintain your individual liberty.
And it is true that digital natives are conditioned differently for authority and expectations for privacy. They have come to expect that their data in network apps belongs to them and they will always be in charge of it. They are not concerned about the potential for companies to use their data in ways that are exploitive and without their permission.
A glimpse of the imminent future
Recently a 60 Minutes news show featured the facial recognition technology retailers are using for to make advertising in the malls customized to your age and sex as you walk by billboards or the kiosk for directions in the shopping mall. The technology is available to create a virtual, continuous feed based upon consumer profiles and preferences. The concept of the feed dominating daily life is not too far fetched. We have already tied our personal images to our profiles. The data is already there. So the question remains, what are we trading in order to belong and participate as consumers and citizens?
Standing your ground
Dave Lema is a technology executive, father of two grown children and one grandchild, and he served as “the Mike” for the radio podcast program, Three Moms and a Mike, focused on conversations about individual resiliency in response to the issues impacting children and families, such as bullying, threats and opportunities of cyber technology, mental health and heath care, underemployment and financial crisis, and domestic violence.
He is also the author of Operation 1420 and Operation Erstaz, novels that portray how individuals thwart terrorists’ plots to destroy our way of life. Based upon historical research Lema’s novels are an allegory for the power crisis of the individual battle to be free from oppression in a collective paradigm.
Lema believes that there are times when “it means everything to stand your ground,” because there will always be threats to individual liberty.
“There are people in the world who do want to destroy us,” Lema said. “They rationalize their murderous plots with religious beliefs. And there are some who argue that we were the bullies in the first place. But if you step back and take a good look at the history of super powers, the Unites States has been by far the most benevolent and humanitarian.”
Lema considers World War II, wherein Americans put themselves at risk to defeat the Nazi’s who steamrolled across Europe, and perpetrated the Holocaust. “America continues to be a beacon of freedom from oppression, or being bullied, by governments and regimes that simply do not respect the individual,” Lema said. “People continue to immigrate here because it is where they can hope to improve their circumstances.”
According to Lema, on 9-11 we were “sucker punched by a handful of people” who want us to surrender our liberty in exchange for Islamic extremist beliefs, values and lifestyle. “They don’t want us meddling on their soil because our beliefs and values are liberating the oppressed,” Lema said. “Yes, oil interest was a factor, but there was also an oppressive regime involved. We do also seek the betterment of mankind.”
In Lema’s first novel, Operation 1420, young adults were recruited to be educated in Western schools and then participate in a sleeper cell terrorist plot to write software code that would cripple air traffic control and other utilities. The heroes were software specialists and in the process of being educated they were able to understand how far to go along in order to give their captors confidence that they were on board, compliant.
A taste of freedom from oppression in the Western universities inspired them to be willing to fight for the other side.
“Yes, the recruits were bullied,” Lema said. “But in their minds they had a wider, stronger view of how their lives would go. They were empowered and thwarted the bullies’ plot in order to defend liberty and freedom.”
Lema’s story portrays for us the nature of individual resiliency. “Anyone can take your power only if you give it up,” Lema said.
So how do we strike a balance between the role of the individual in community, and the role of community in the life of an individual?
Lema sees this individual and collective tension playing out in our society today. “We have a culture of entitlement and dependency that if unchecked, the safety net could become so wide that 95% of people won’t have to be responsible anymore, and the top 5% will be paying the way,” Lema said. “This leads to tyranny because it is only sustainable at the convenience of the elite.”
As our children engage in the global communities, it is even more important that they are taught to think for themselves. National borders eventually give way to relating to individual plights and circumstances around the world (e.g., the Arab Spring). Our youth are global citizens and they want liberty and justice for all.
And in the global network, much like the heroes in Lema’s novels, our children must be able to discern for themselves what they are willing to trade in order to belong. They must be able to draw a line, and stand their own ground in principles that protect their individual liberty.
Proceed to next article: How to ‘resist the feed’ by connecting with ‘The Leader In Me’
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.