Imagine a technological innovation that can weed out child predators hiding in the dark pockets of the internet — a beautiful, life-saving move that prioritizes safety and protection and one the architect should be celebrated for.
Now imagine opposition, resistance and dissent toward that tool — specifically, rooted in fears of technological abuse and contaminated privacy.
Apple has been facing criticism recently for a new policy aimed at protecting minors from child sexual abuse material. This backlash is ridiculous. And I support Apple’s decision to introduce new regulations and technology that “empowers people and enriches their lives.”
Last month, I moved back to my childhood home where I finally confronted my hoarder tendencies and upturned a closet flooded with Zhu Zhu pets, my Rainbow Loom kit, Orbeez, a Nintendo DS and too many Silly Bandz and Sticky Hands. As old memories began to surge back into my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the experiences of kids that enter into an already present social media world. It is frustrating and concerning that younger kids confront the same space that gives adults body insecurities and adverse mental health effects; that they live in a world where cyberbullying is widespread and normal.
How are we changing, really? How is technology changing us? A recent Ezra Klein Show episode on The New York Times hosted guest L.M. Sacasas, author of the newsletter The Convivial Society, to discuss 41 questions concerning technology. Sacasas pulls from 20th-century philosophers of technology to argue that technology is not an innocent medium — we become these tools and are reshaped by them. The choices we make and the habits we form in the virtual world spill out and become reality. His questions directed me to take a backseat from the technocentric screen and consider our generation’s relationship with technology:
When we spew unfiltered, negative comments just because we can’t see the person behind the screen, what sort of person does that make us? When we fill open cracks of time with a subconscious, trained flick of the thumb to open Snapchat or TikTok, what experiences does that prevent? What rituals, conversations, relationships, spontaneous moments? When we post on Instagram and obsessively submit to ‘like’ and follower counts, are we being authentic to ourselves or are we just performances ourselves, hungry for the audience’s approval? When we persist in a toxic relationship with social media platforms, is it anxiety and fear keeping us hanging on? Why do we continue?
In a place where saying anything is better than saying nothing, misinformation thrives. This form of social media undermines us and makes our lives worse.
In its infant stage, social media was seemingly innocent, welcoming society with boundless freedom and individual expression (remember the world of Dylan O’Brien’s homemade sketches on YouTube, or very random highly filtered Instagram posts?) Because of that nostalgic optimism, I understand the hesitation or objections to regulation that feels as though companies are stealing the magic of the virtual society. People are afraid of limited rights, reveling in the current state of nature where we stand as equal beings without a form of government and legislature to restrain us.
In the political sphere, libertarians value a minimal state and maximum individual rights. They hate being used for the sake of others’ welfare (think seatbelt laws or income redistribution from the rich to the poor). Applied to the virtual society, I think it’s analogous to hating regulation as a means for the collective welfare of technology users (think privacy breach complaints amidst efforts of child pornography surveillance).
John Locke argues that there are inconveniences in a state of nature, namely over-aggression in punishment and heightened violence, which ultimately leaves people insecure in their enjoyment of their inalienable rights. Users “cancel” influencers in extreme measures, often accompanied by suicide threats.
Sometimes we find ourselves overcome with unbearable anxiety in a toxic environment and delete social media apps for weeks. In our developing virtual society, we need to find civility and recover the ability to enjoy our rights to life, liberty and happiness by striking a balance between individual rights and the common good.
So yes — new technologies may be weaponized. But we are the ones behind the tool, wielding it, so we must be the ones to change. It’s inevitable that technology will progress. We should allow companies to put forth safe rules and policies while we become more conscious of how we relate to technology.
Before you open another app, take a moment to think about your habits, the underlying motives behind them and reaffirm your values. Let’s not blame the tool designed to save millions of children.
Lily Kwak is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.