Screen Time and the Digital Humanist Atack on FreedomBy Blair Morris
September 23, 2019
On the bases of their public pronouncements, flexibility is of fantastic significance to the purveyors of digital technology. Social network business have long embraced the right to totally free expression: “ We exist in a society where individuals worth and cherish complimentary expression, and the capability to state things …“ 1 Nevertheless, it may well be that excessive online material is doing the opposite of promoting liberty, and factors to consider of some rather older philosophical concepts may help to highlight a prospective brand-new digital problem. Flexibility comes from being able to manage ourselves, not from being managed, but information schedule, on its own, does not give us that ability.
Even when identifying that something is wrong, and moving towards removal of abusive or improper content, which is to be invited, social media business are reluctant about their actions, and seek sanction from outside bodies 2,3 Attempts to manage improper or violent content are extremely targeted; product is not to be removed, however highlighted and hidden, perhaps to be sought-out by those interested 4 The validation for such content management is couched in regards to protecting freedom: “ By updating the guidelines for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it– the liberty for people to reveal themselves and for entrepreneurs to develop brand-new things …“ 2 The advantages and disadvantages of such moves are debated in terms of freedom of access to info 5,6, but this debate, frequently opposing ‘flexibility of expression’ and ‘liberty from abuse’, may be obscuring other equally-critical aspects underpinning liberty.
All of the above represents an essential reality– social media business, and their critics, appear to believe that unlimited, unconfined, access to the web preserves liberty. 1,6 Screen time is, hence, equated with ‘liberty’, and ‘flexibility’ is ‘the right to do what you desire when you wish to do it’. To those who refute this position, they state that they are the opponents of flexibility. This can be described a ‘digital humanist’ position. Being free ways having the ability to accumulate screen time without question or limitation, and, more pertinently for the existing argument, without questioning why this is an advantage. Screen time is perceived as an inalienable right– accepting whatever screen time is available– something that even the founders of the Constitution of the U.S.A. would support 6
Nevertheless, this view of liberty could be thought about either naïve, self-serving, or disingenuous, with an overly-simplistic notion of what ‘liberty’ is, and what it requires. The cornerstones of liberty, it ends up, may be basically weakened by excessive, unthinking, screen time– a circumstance that might not only weaken our freedom but also our ability to be free. It is of interest to contrast this digital humanist view of flexibility– in reality, a really humanistic one 7— with two extremely different views: one from Skinner ( Beyond Flexibility and Dignity) 8, and one from Popper ( The Open Society and Its Enemies) 9 On the face of it, these are views that are at chances with one another, with the latter explicitly criticizing the previous for dismissing flexibility– for being an opponent of an open society. Nevertheless, both of these positions share a common thread– in order to be significant, ‘flexibility’ necessitates the capabilities ‘to understand’, ‘to question’, and ‘to act’.
For a Skinnerian, if flexibility is to have significance, it should include having an understanding of the ecological variables that control one’s behavior, and a capability to apply ‘counter-control’ over those variables. As the majority of the variables that manage us, in this method, are ‘aversive’ (” Thou shalt not …”), Skinner would rather remove them, upgrade Society, and prevent the problem in the first location– but that is for an utopia 8, or a dystopia 9, depending upon your perspective. Popper argued that flexibility consisted in having no external control over what is believed, or proposed, and promoted the capability to concern and test, scientifically, whatever we want to propose. Thus, both of these views, although frequently counter-posed, involve the ‘reasonable’ questioning of our world. For these views, ‘freedom’ is not: ‘doing what I desire, when I desire to do it’; however rather: ‘doing what I understand I must, when I know it is required’. A view that is highly similar to that revealed by Spinoza: “ The highest activity a person can attain is finding out for understanding because to comprehend is to be complimentary.“10
This view presents a huge difficulty to the digital humanist position. If flexibility is an unchecked, self-determined, use of screen time, this involves no rationality, necessarily, however simply the ability to act, possibly on a whim– and impulses can easily end up being overturned or controlled by others. If you do not question what you are doing and why, how do you understand what you want?; and, if you do not know what you desire, how can you act logically and easily? You might still behave reflexively, of course– that is a basic Skinnerian notion– but such reflexive, or Pavlovian, responding is not ‘voluntary’ in a Skinnerian’s view.
At a mental level, disorganized screen time provides challenges to being able to believe for oneself, and, for that reason, challenges our capability to be free– in this sense, it is the opposite of ‘liberty’. Believe of this example: unrestricted environments, with no favorable limitations, produce habits issues11, which will prevent abilities for knowing, thought, and, thus, for liberty. In reality, too much screen time will produce either too much, or insufficient, direct exposure to info. Without structure, there will be an overload of details. In order to cope with this overload, we might over-select, and concentrate on less and less of it; we just do not expose ourselves to the complete possibilities but remain within our convenience zone12
In the limiting case, too much available information leads to a sense of powerlessness, and to quiting– witness the issues recently talked about by the UK authorities in regards to their capabilities to solve crimes: “ There is a lot data that has actually to be taken a look at … and you have actually got to understand your information within out and back to front …“13 To cope, we may stick with what is familiar– what we like– the echo chamber effect– and this lowers our freedom. The environment acts to constrain our freedom when we permit the environment to run riot. Unrestricted, unconfined, screen time may produce less, not more, knowledge. Less, not more, ability to question. Less, not more, flexibility. With this overload of information, our mental constraints mean that we become more susceptible to influence, and less able to test or counter-control.
Promoting screen time is not going to promote flexibility unless we understand why we are using the screen. Promoting unconfined screen time will allow the easier pushing of views, and items, without rational questioning– it is an unsafe danger to our flexibility. Liberty is safeguarded by recognizing our psychological limitations and individual duties, knowing what needs to be done, and safeguarding the individual resources that will allow us to do this.
The sting in the tail to all of this, of course, is to question how informational restriction works with liberty. The answer to that question is that the restrictions on our seeking, and being exposed to, details need to originate from our own reasoned habits– we need to understand why we are utilizing the screen, and not rely on others to answer this for us. Digital info is a tool, like any other, that we need to discover to use appropriately; after all, we would not randomly use a power drill to do every job!
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