Every day we use online services that don’t charge us any money but that package all our activity into units for sale to their customers, advertisers. Facebook, Google, and Amazon, to name just the biggest three, have established a relationship with us in which we permit surveillance of every YouTube search, every Alexa query, every viewed meme, in exchange for the utility those services provide. Our activity is their raw material.
We all know this, and most of us don’t really like it. But we lack alternatives. I have weird-out spells where I resist one or the other of these ubiquitous digital helpmates by giving it up for awhile, but that gesture of refusal feels less virtuous than the first time I did it and more, I don’t know, morally superior. Laura Portwood finds
It may be that refusal is only available as a tactic to people who already possess a great deal of social capital, people whose social standing will endure without Facebook and people whose livelihoods don’t require them to be constantly plugged in and reachable . . . These are people who have what [Kathleen] Noonan calls ‘the power to switch off.'”
Yesterday somebody put all of this to me as a moral question: does the church care about what this business model is doing? I could only answer that it doesn’t seem to me that we’ve got our ecclesial head around that part of it yet. Lots of church folk have been agitating for awhile now about the effect of unchecked phone and social media use on individuals, but none of us (I don’t think) are addressing yet the morality of the whole model. What does it do, for example, to our understanding of humanity to see it reduced by giant corporations to bits of extractable and marketable data?
Morally quitting Facebook is annoying, but morally resisting the economic model the tech economy is building may be important.
One thought on “Refusal”
Well considered, Rocky. The moral question for me seems to hinge on the times when I’m in the room with someone who would rather “connect” with someone over a device instead of connecting with me. I don’t stay in those rooms longer than I must.