Can you say that the technology is neutral? “Technological development often responds to certain purposes or political or commercial motivations of its creators, therefore, its properties are hardly impartial. Technologies can also have non-neutral effects, which occur as a result of the technology's own design. Whether technologies benefit people in any way, or favor one group over another, their neutrality is questionable.”, Cristóbal Cobo analyzes in his book“ I accept the Conditions: uses and abuses of digital technologies ”, which was carried out with the support of the Santillana Foundation and with the collaboration of the Ceibal Foundation Study Center.
The author is a specialist in Education and Technology Policies, has a PhD “cum laudem” in Communication Sciences from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and founded the Ceibal Foundation Study Center. Her work focuses on the intersection between the future of learning, the culture of innovation and people-centered technologies.
In its book, which was published last year, is dedicated to analyzing the progress of the internet and the algorithmic world from different perspectives: it analyzes the gaps and asymmetries that emerged in the digital age, as well as the new ways of exercising power and control that are taking place today at the hands of the technological giants.
Cobo invites us to put aside ingenuity to be able to make an exhaustive analysis of the scope of this virtual universe where only a few wield power and influence over many others are relegated.
"We live a kind of digital feudalism in which a few manage the data and a large population delivers it without receiving financial compensation, " says the author. In this note we take a tour of some of the most prominent passages in the book and include a final reflection by Cobo on the use of contact monitoring apps They started using different governments with the aim of reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
Gaps and asymmetries diversify
Currently, half of the world's population is connected but there is still another half that does not have access to the network. This data already speaks of sufficient inequality but it is not all: accessing the internet is not synonymous with being digitally included. Nor is being able to use multiple applications.
"Today what is relevant is not only if you have access to devices or connectivity, but the value is mainly in what you can do when you are connected: how you can take advantage of these instruments to amplify your capabilities, to develop new skills, or to generate new opportunities for your own benefit or that of your community ”, explains the author.
In turn, he says that it is important for users to understand that much of what they consume is influenced by a set of algorithms that mold reality according to their tastes and interests.
Digital literacy and autonomy
“There is a dependency or, even worse, an ignorance regarding how the decisions made by those who design, or write the code for these devices, influence our way of thinking and acting. When we choose not to choose, we choose to transfer part of our autonomy to third parties ”, he stresses.
The way to combat ignorance is by promoting responsible analysis and the development of skills that allow the user to rethink the system in which he is immersed. In this sense, the author highlights the importance of citizens developing skills related to computational thinking, critical digital literacy, data or network literacy, among other capabilities.
This will allow them to better understand the systems they use, develop critical analysis, and thus cultivate greater freedom in choosing what to consume and how to do it. At this point it should be noted that these skills are also central to being able to discern between true news and disinformation. In a context where fake news They can be viralized in a matter of minutes, knowing how to validate information or distinguishing between a reliable source from another that is not is essential.
“The differences would be between those who are in a position to critically analyze the sources, filter the veracity of the content and discard the unreliable information, and those who do not. This digital divide is less instrumental and attributes greater relevance to the cognitive dimension, "highlights Cobo.
Free services are paid with data
When you browse the web, when you use a platform, when you download an app, data is being generated. And that data is used by different companies to generate increasingly personalized ads. Digital systems that are used for free actually charge for their use by accessing users' personal data, the author analyzes. As has been said many times, big data is the new oil of the 21st century.
“Data privacy increasingly seems like a rare commodity. The normal citizen can hardly aspire to total privacy in digital spaces. It is true that contact with all digital channels and associated services (banking, health, education, transport, entertainment) can be interrupted, but the cost would be very high"Cobo warns. And the price would be to stay on the sidelines of an increasingly digital and interconnected world.
Another point that the author focuses on is the time he spends using different electronic devices. "Different studies indicate that if screen time is not controlled it is exposed to a series of negative effects in children, ranging from childhood obesity, irregular sleep cycles and even social and / or behavioral problems. These works highlight the importance of implementing a healthy diet for media consumption, "he stresses.
The almost permanent permanence on the screen also leads to divided and diluted attention. “Digital technologies seem to increasingly distract us. Permanent noise affects perception and diminishes our ability to make effective decisions ”, He says. And he concludes: "Information overstimulation is an important cause that affects our ability to focus on something."
The author clarifies that in recent times the technology giants have added, in the last time, digital wellness tools that allow the user to control and regulate the time they spend online.
The concentration of power in a few hands
In this context where screens and the data collected through different services prevail, there are a few who manage to obtain the greatest benefits, according to the author. "A good part of the data flows that are generated (and trafficked) on the internet are concentrated in a few companies also known as GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft)," says Cobo. And he adds: “This concentration is not good for anyone (only for GAFAM). It is not good for transparency, nor is it good for democracy or for trust. ”
"It is evident that in different countries the State has lost prominence and credibility and that in many cases it seems that it has been lagging behind in the face of the possibility of appropriately regulating technological changes in defense of citizen interests."
“There are usually no simple solutions to complex problems. Asymmetries and abuses of power are not solved with a single click ”, analyzes Cobo. And in this sense he talks about addressing the problem taking into account several questions: to begin with, citizens are required to be more aware of all the processes and interests that are involved in the digital age. Being informed is essential to have a critical vision and to be able to make informed decisions.
He highlights the importance of "learning to be more human in the machine age" and suggests that states have "greater prominence and dynamism when legislating, ensuring that the protection of citizens in the digital age is a priority".
Contact tracking applications
Infobae contacted the author for his opinion regarding the use of contact tracking applicationsor that today several countries in the world are using. These platforms seek to reduce the chain of coronavirus infections.
Firstly, Cobo stressed that the existence of these tools account for the ease that results for companies to "give data traceability." And he elaborated on the importance of making these designs while respecting the rights of citizens.
"In this false duality between freedom and security, it seems that you have to give up all freedom to be healthy and I think that is a farce. Measures can be taken to take care of the citizens, seeking to be transparent ”, he analyzed.
In this sense, he stressed that it must be clear to citizens who and how they store their data. He also stressed that citizens should be able to exercise the right to have their data erased or deleted whenever they wish. and that mechanisms are put in place so that, in the event of any unwanted use of these data, there is someone who is responsible. "I would hope that there is some citizen or academic entity that ensures the ethical use of this information," he concluded.
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