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Digital whiplash: The case of digital surveillance

Authors
  • Dormandy, Katherine1
  • 1 Department of Christian Philosophy University of Innsbruck, Karl-Rahner Platz 1 6020 , (Austria)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Human Affairs
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Oct 09, 2020
Volume
30
Issue
4
Pages
559–569
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/humaff-2020-0049
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Digital technology is rapidly transforming human life. But our cognition is honed for an analog world. I call this the problem of digital whiplash: that the digital transformation of society, like a vehicle whose sudden acceleration injures its occupants, is too fast to be safe. I focus on the unprecedented phenomenon of digital surveillance, which I argue poses a long-term threat to human autonomy that our cognition is ill-suited to recognize or respond to. Human cognition is embodied and context-sensitive, and thus faces four problems of digital whiplash vis-à-vis digital surveillance. First is the problem of signal sparsity, that there are few if any perceptible indications of digital surveillance. Second is the problem of signal elusiveness, that the few indications there are prohibitively difficult to discover. Third is the distraction problem, that using digital technologies corrodes the cognitive abilities we need to recognize and respond to digital surveillance. Fourth is the hooking problem, that digital technologies are engineered to cultivate dependency. I address, among other objections, the idea that we choose to exchange our privacy for the use of digital technologies, so their use is in fact an expression of autonomy. The response to digital whiplash, I argue, is not to slow down the digitalization of society in its current form so that we can adapt our cognitive capacities. It is to allow ourselves the time to reflect on and debate whether digitalization, in its current form, is delivering a socially and ethically desirable future.

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