I Believe that .......... should be a Right in the Digital Age

Posted by Samuel Tettner at Mar 28, 2011 08:45 AM |
On Monday March 21, 2011, people from three continents blogged about what they believe will/should/are rights in the digital age, as part of the "Digital Natives with a Cause?" project. From "free music" to "many identities", people have a varied and rich set of beliefs of what should constitute a right.

What do you think should be a right in the digital age?

This is the question which community members, facilitators and organizers of the “Digital Natives with a Cause?” project asked themselves on Monday, 21 March 2011.

Juan-Manuel Casanueva, a facilitator at the workshop in Chile, talks about the right to be heard and read by anyone. Juan Manuel sets up a historical picture, explaining that the quest for global dialogue advanced tremendously with the implementation of the Internet. Early proponents of the Internet spoke of a world where people, enabled by the technology, would communicate with each other seamlessly. Casanueva explains that this is not the case; roughly 30 years after the Internet began people are still using the Internet as an extension of their community-based communication model. Now that the hardware is there, it is time to start questioning the other and possibly more subtle aspects of global communication like the linguistics and social attitudes…

 But of course, how could we all communicate if not all of us have access yet?  This is an issue that Nilofar, a participant of the workshop in Taipei, and Fernanda another participant from Ecuador explores more in depth in their post. The right to access information freely and universally is one which Nilofar advocates be expanded beyond those with disability to include “your friend, neighbour or the needy nerd?” This way, access will not only be provided to those below the poverty line, but for those who already enjoy access, it won’t continue to be politicized, corrupted, commoditized and in general under-utilized.

Paidamoyo also talks about access, specifically access by women. He describes the emergence of digital technologies as being crucial to the enlargement of the gap between men and women, simply because men enjoyed more access. Today, women have been left outside of the technology revolution, which is a huge problem since 52 per cent of the world’s population consists of women.

To properly access all of the wonders that the world of Internet offers we need to know how to physically operate a computer, but there are a series of more intangible skills needed. Simeon, a participant from the workshop in Johannesburg proposes that being digitally literate should be a right in the information age. What does he mean by being literate? Well, Simeon explains that “digital” is more of a mindset than a condition: it is an approach to life and not a method.  “A number of people may have access to digital tools and technology but very few will get the opportunity to learn the techniques needed to maximize their investment on digital tools” he says, and it is as useful or sometimes more to teach people about the value and the potential uses of digital technologies than the mere skill.

Now, what do we do with all the information once we have accessed it? Jenny from Costa Rica believes we should share it. Spreading the digital love should be a right according to her, because sharing is analogous to growing: a process which makes us better. “we are entitled to share.  We like to share our opinions, our work, to share questions and even complaints.  It is a natural response, an impulse, you may think”  She mentions platforms like bandcamp where musicians can upload their music and share it for free, and Creative Commons licenses which allow for legal ways of collaborating while maintaining authorship rights. But what happens when the information online is restricted and modifying it or sharing it is illegal? Adolfo from Nicaragua believes we all have the right to hack! Adolfo explains that nowadays “hacking” has negative overtones, but that the origins of the word simply refer to someone who modified trains for better performance or appeal. Adolfo believes that if he pays for something, he has the right to modify it, change it, tweak it, add to it, remove from it, and deface it in any way he wants. Adolfo and Shehla from India would get along very well, because Shehla believes free music should be a right in the digital age. What is stealing? Are we reaching a point where illegally downloading music is not morally incorrect? “(most people) would never think of stealing a CD from a store (or at least not that easily). So what exactly is stealing? And more so, in the online world? It’s as easy as the click of a button… can’t be that bad”.

Still, not everyone advocated for increasing access, Fieke from Hivos in the Netherlands believes that being able to unplug is a right. Fieke tells of how she lives a technologically savvy life, having a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, answering emails for the better part of the day, but she does enjoy being able to turn off her cellphone and enjoy the sun on a clear day. Are we losing our ability to do that? When you send an sms message, do you expect the person to answer immediately? What kind of pressure does this put us under? It might not be as easy as we think to disconnect ourselves: The discourse of accessibility as a right plays an important role in development, so institutionalizing the right to disconnect might prove counter-productive if it is abused as an excuse to purposely alienate or marginalize certain groups.  We also have to think that there are financial interests at play, as the more connected one is the more can be sold to one and the more that can be commoditized. Angela from the Philippines has a similar concern:  Are we losing the right to not know?  With the increasing arrival of web 3, the amount of information we constantly access, manipulate, assimilate and re-transmit is vast. In an age of ubiquitous information bombardment, can we choose to be ignorant? Are there any situations where actually not knowing is a valid alternative?

Some people focused on how we access (or choose to not access) information and what we do with it, some others focused on how said access affects our personalities, our identities and who we perceive we are. Nishant from CIS in India thinks that having multiple identities should be a right in the digital age. Nishant explains that even though we all have different aspects of our personalities which constitute different identities, because of the nature of social interactions and the spaces where these occurred, we were forced to choose one identity at a time. “The analogue individual was subjected to the laws of linear physics and time, where s/he was allowed to be only one person at one time and mapped to the one body”. Now, with the arrival of the digital individual, we can be many in many ways, in many spaces, simultaneously.

Because we can express our different identities freely and without needing to be consolidated into “one”, this frees up the possibility of having multiple and often contradictory opinions. The Internet has the potential of being a place where one can explore the varying meanings and impacts of each of his/her identities. Yet, experiences online get “fixed”  into one of these identities, for example, if I am the person who usually posts news on my Facebook page, the community around me tends to expect this kind of behaviour from me, to the point where if I want to change my mind I need to withdraw completely from the community. This is why Josine from HIVOS in the Netherlands thinks that there should be more online spaces where one is allowed to change one’s mind. A related idea to that one of being able to change one’s mind according to the particular identity is the ability to choose one’s identity. Samuel Tettner expresses that the analogue person’s personality was directly tied to his/her environment and surroundings. This way, the identity was determined by the place where one was born, the surrounding community and its language, customs and traditions. In the digital age, people have access to a much more culture, and the global quality of the Internet is helping to break the continuity between physical space and identity.

So, what do you think of cross-section of what people think should be rights in the digital age? Write down your comments please. Of course, if you don’t, you’d still be within your rights as a digital being, at least according to Prabhas who lives in Kosovo. Prabhas believes that the right to lurk should be a right in the digital age. “In an age of increasing digital participation, silent participation must be considered participation, and left be. Not everyone needs to comment, vote, whatever else. Some may just read/watch/listen, and perhaps, appreciate. It is okay if no thumb is clicked up, no quick reply sent back. No blog written."

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Samuel Tettner

The child of Jewish Romanian immigrant and Italian-Venezuelan parents, Samuel has always had an eclectic identity and personality. At age 15, he emigrated to the United States and went on to study public policy with a concentration on philosophy, science & technology. Since January 2010, Samuel resides in India, where he co-coordinates the Digital Natives with a Cause? project. His interests include information and innovation systems, technology-enabled education, knowledge networks, and all that is open-source, collaborative and dynamic.