Man is free but everywhere in Chains. The capitalization in “Chains” is apposite because now more than ever before with the blessings of technology or should it be said through it the fetters of our social contract have become highlighted as well as emphasized and indeed augmented.
This book will attempt to answer the question of how that came to be and define the parameters and magnitude of that augmentation. The leading question concerns whether technology has increased personal freedom or restricted it in a net effect. It should be noted that this draft was commenced on Independence Day weekend 2011 to perhaps add a shadow of irony to the work.
I propose no introduction or disclaimers but it is clear everything I now develop is within the terms set out in the first paragraph. This may also be a test of a laptop key board about 3 years old having had too many things eaten over it resulting in typos. The reader really knows nothing yet in either case.
No credit is given to “The Social Contract” by Rousseau as it’s out of print anyway. This is not a scholarly work nor is it derivative of any beyond using the introductory words of that book as a catch phrase for opening this book. Those looking for literary inspiration and source material are directed to the technologies mentioned herein. Here is first aspect of personal freedom for this author in NOT having to credit any perceived source material. Besides this cannot be seen as anything about social contract that can be shared upfront. However it may be a technology contract which has been unwritten until now. Personal case history will also be used and no names will be changed to protect the guilty. Skew is NOT.
Freedom of course takes many forms but the focus here will be on the change of freedom in terms of its curtailment and the augmentation thereof. Expanding on the constraints involved will be a focus here. Be forewarned you will not have a passive read here and will be poked and prodded the whole way `through with reflexive questions and accusations. That’s what is meant by this having nothing to do with social contract – it’s personal! All is personal here and as usual anything written contain autobiographical information. I say as usual because arguably any book contains personal information though not usually in explicit form. So again, if you want to know the inspiration for this book it is ME.
If we consider freedom and you never truly have until now have you there is nothing really that is free. Look around you. Here it is a nice summer day. Are the birds free? No because last night I ended a bird’s nest that had been on my window sill for a few weeks. The bird came back a few times to the empty window sill after the nest was removed but that’s not freedom is it? It would come back in any case until it “realized” there was no nest. An exact example of non-freedom and no realization at all as it is interpretation of a non-human. Assumptive at best that there is any reason involved.
Is an atom free? No because it is a part of something even in uncertainty it’s not free. Any casual scientific analysis can come up with many restraints it must orbit within and states of its own “being” in space-time. There certainly isn’t any choice there either. Not choice giving freedom.
Is a plant free say a tree? There too, the answer must be no since it can be burned in a fire, cut down, torn by winds, invaded by pests and so forth. Also by definition it is fixed so has no “choice” or degree of freedom in that sense.
Some would counter these are absurdities and the chorus of “of course not’s” might be deafening but covering my ass is all that is been done there. No explanation needed and none given if you are too stupid to figure that out. Got it?
Is this book from the outset a work hell-bent on destroying any notion of freedom by pointing out the many instances where freedom doesn’t really exist? The short answer is no because as in other considerations opposites often beg the positive as they are part and parcel of the same thing. By destroying the notion of freedom there is freedom in that destruction so we come full circle and cannot really get at the issue of freedom that way let alone the core issue here which is the increasing restraint placed on it through technological mediation [(enabling)].
Perhaps the walk this afternoon will recall or bring some more insights. You have never read a book like this where the author admits of possible failure though you can skip ahead and see a fully developed book so know it came out in the end as a complete work. And adding on to an earlier thought on what is free – I will take the hike in the mountains so one may say mountains are free. Not because of the hike but in time they are free to be…mountains. Not ultimately that’s true (the earth itself is not ultimately free of eventual end either and mountains as subject to long-term geological processes dictating their end).
So now that freedom is not we can perhaps find out what it is before going into the focus topic of change in freedom related to technology.
As I was on my hike today some guidance for structuring this work occurred to me. Choice should be in a Part all on its own and will be the first presented. This will then be followed by Part II on Technology as it relates to Freedom. I do it this way because as I will demonstrate in Part I Choice is fundamental and underpins Freedom. Technology as an enabler (or disabler) may be seen as an extension of Choice in specific applications which will guide the Chapters in Part II.
The consideration of the advancement of personal freedom from use of the internet and mobile technology must be prefaced by looking at technology’s effect on freedom in general. Through each technological advancement it can be argued that humans become more free. In the earliest instance of this, fire was discovered and became a useful tool in warding off attackers as well as in cooking. Later, the same technology was ultimately used in industrial applications and still later in the fine arts such as in glass-making. Each technology contributed to a degree to those that came before it. This is why one cannot just isolate internet/mobile technologies without considering the cumulative effect of these other technologies. However, for this book the contrasting and comparing will be limited to pointing out that other technologies certainly added to personal freedom but in a way different from the technologies under consideration. If we look at the major technologies developed ranging from fire to the wheel through to the electric motor, the automobile and so forth we can see that these all increase freedom by increasing efficiency. The difference being that, without them, one has less leisure time because even the most simple tasks such as travel to get sustenance (the hunter-gathers for example had no freedom in this regard) occupied most of one’s time. Later, more significant developments such as the automobile created even more freedom of choice (should I go to the lake this weekend or the city of City to visit my mother?). Here we see a definite expansion of freedom as concerns choice (travel plans) which was obviously not possible before the automobile. So, as technology developed different types of personal freedom became possible. What this is all leading up to is of course the current technological revolution and the notion that the current type of freedom most under expansion involves freedom of expression. The invention of fire clearly did not expand this freedom or indeed create it though in a way much later the American Indians perfected smoke signals as a way of communication. A crude tool but arguably an instance of freedom of expression since communication could be personalized albeit in a very limited way. Later on, with the automobile, one could say that personal expression was expanded in matters of style and options. The earliest autos all looked very similar but this changed over the years as makes and models were developed. Still later, a whole culture of the automobile developed around fast food and rock and roll. Elvis comes to mind.
All these technologies did expand freedom of expression in some limited way but they are not in themselves tools of expression in the same way the computer has facilitated…..
(Consider later the freedom to use or not to use and the importance of “immediacy” (why we “need” to be tethered to this technology …the instance of the internet café where people are not looking at each other but through a screen (screen vision, screen world). The internet’s proper domain of freedom is that of expression like no other predecessor technology. The recent occurrence of Hurricane Sandy and the shutdown of wireless infrastructure in New York reminds us of that dependency and the fact it is apparently not a matter of going back to the “old days” of keeping in touch with people via land lines. Presumably, these largely still worked during the storm though how many availed themselves of that choice. A choice that although better than no contact hardly had all the “immediacies” afforded by one’s IPhone. Affected people were unable to send any text messages let alone participate in the myriad of apps social and otherwise. Perhaps some resorted to non-social activities such as reading or playing solitary games on their devices. Even availing oneself of a Wi-Fi hotspot wasn’t a choice since many of these were also affected and the corner Starbucks was closed in many cases. Taking away the technology reveals the lack of freedom of choice if nothing else though it may also point out that at least temporarily emergency adaptations can be made from necessity and a lack of choice created by a disaster of such magnitude