Law in the Internet Society

Essay One Draft Two: Incremental Change and Consumer Empowerment

In my first draft of this essay, I wrote about my experience attempting to reconcile my own reluctance to change with the magnitude of the digital surveillance problems we have discussed in class. I detailed my thought process when downloading Firefox on my phone, stating that I believed an “uninformed choice about which browser to use for the rest of my bad internet habits [was], at best, a bare minimum positive change.” After reflecting upon your comments over the past few months, I still believe this change and changes like it have minimal impact on a societal level, but I no longer believe that the potential for moral licensing they create outweighs the value of the changes themselves. In this revision, I explain how and why my opinion has changed.

Earlier this semester, I believed that my switch to Firefox without more drastic action “exemplifies how small, virtually meaningless changes toward promoting data security are detrimental to the actualization of freedom of thought for all people because they morally license people like me to avoid taking impactful steps toward positive change.” In arguing that these changes were meaningless at best and detrimental at worst, I set up a false dichotomy between drastic changes which affect society for the better and small changes with the same intent, but relatively tiny effects. Your comments, the discussions we had about applying class concepts in day-to-day life, and my own behavior since lead me to believe that this dichotomy is, in fact, false. Instead of seeing small changes as a way to morally license large-scale inaction, I now view them as steps toward significant change – a way to break out of the inertia of inaction and make change palatable.

I still believe that “because small departures from the dominant data collection paradigm are performed by people who know their habits perpetuate that paradigm, they evidence the idea that people making these inconsequential changes know that larger shifts would be better.” However, in my original draft, I argued that people with such knowledge of the harm perpetuated by capitalist digital tyranny make small changes instead of large ones for two reasons. First, because they do not know what types of large changes would promote freedom of thought, and second, because they know large changes could threaten their identities. Now, I no longer think that making small changes based on knowledge of the problem necessarily evidences moral licensing through either of these means. Instead, the combination of awareness that change needs to happen and making a small change as a consequence demonstrates how knowledge of can exist without paralysis.

Just as I used my own mindset as a backdrop for my previous conclusion, I believe the way that my thinking on this issue has evolved evidences the idea that incremental changes are, on the whole, helpful instead of harmful. After considering your comment that “freedom begins by knowing that another future is possible” and reflecting upon the links between my digital behaviors and identity as the semester progressed, I experienced – empirically, firsthand – how larger changes to my habits as a digital consumer could be reconciled with my self-image. In short, I changed my mind about the relative utility of low-impact positive changes because although those changes did allow me to feel good in the short term without doing much good for the long term, taking some sort of action catalyzed a shift from a feeling of complete helplessness to an internal locus of control. I no longer think my next computer needs to be a Macbook, that anyone should have a claim to my location data, or that I should waste so much time feeding social media platforms my data. This means that as time goes on, my habits as a consumer and the influence I have on others might actually have a cumulative effect – especially if I apply these habits and mindset in my career.

Before I made some small changes – things like switching from Firefox, changing cookies settings, leaving my phone at home sometimes, and going back to paper books from audiobooks – making larger changes seemed too daunting. I was paralyzed by fear of the magnitude of the data collection paradigm and its presence in my life. This fear was evident in the pessimism which riddled my first draft and my reluctance to acknowledge that I, as an individual, did then and still do have power to affect change, even if the only immediate effects of such change exist within myself. To understand the import of small changes which exist as self-fulfilling prophecies, demonstrating that change is possible, I needed to experience them, and I did. Before I experimented with the limits of my identity as a digital consumer, I assumed my identity was brittle and would be threatened by only minor deviations from self-imposed and culturally imposed norms. Testing these limits was the only way for me to empirically discover that not only is this not true now, but that it was never true. There were people long before there were consumerism, and we exist as more than digital consumers. Making incremental changes reminded me that I have the capacity to change, and with the realization of that capacity comes a wealth of power.

My mistake in my first draft was not claiming that switching to Firefox didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I still believe that. Instead, the mistake was thinking that only the grand scheme matters. I now believe that incremental changes are not harmful to promoting freedom of thought, but are instead essential for people like me who doubt their own capacity to change within. I am still grappling with the question of how I can create meaningful change outside of myself, but the hurtle I have to overcome in that context is now one of means, not will.

The new draft should have replaced the old one. All versions remain in the wiki, reachable through the page history. But if you leave multiple versions on the page then "diff" tools don't work. So I've removed the old draft and my comments.

Having taken the step of seeing that you can make change in yourself, you can reflect further on the effect of such changes on the outside world, which can also be larger than you have so far allowed for. Firefox needs to gain users, having gone from 13% to less than 3% of the user base for browsers, as Chrome became the world's dominant browser, and (as Chromium is now also the heart of Microsoft Edge and Brave, along with other offshoots) nearly a technical monoculture. You could be contributing to Mozilla Foundation in one way or another, or finding some other privacy-enhacing free software or free culture product. As you become more involved, others involve you in using or contributing to projects you also like. You are a prosumer in the digital society now, not a consumer, becausre you also produce.

This is how individual growth is also social change, economic change, and political change. I do want you to become a much more terse writer. It's also possibly time to read sine Marx. But as the two goals are potentially conflicting, brevity first.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r4 - 17 Jan 2022 - 15:10:32 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM