In Digital Studies 395, the main foci of our first unit were algorithms and digital identity. We’ve watched videos about why it is important to learn to code, read algowave short stories, and played around with experimental face-tracking apps. We’ve discussed the effects of social media on political radicalization, the reality of Weapons of Math Destruction, and the possibility of the digital world becoming even more influential than our current physical world.
The biggest takeaway of this unit for me was that it is vital for people to take control of their own digital identities. Especially after having grown up with the internet, I have no idea what kinds of things I could have posted as a child that are permanently online and can affect others’ perceptions of me in the future. That is why it is so important that I am able to shape the narrative of me presented on the internet, which I will admit I have never been particularly diligent with. I would like to find away to keep up with social media without having to become too involved, as I have never found social media to be particularly interesting or entertaining, but I do understand that it is how the world works now and if a person has any online presence at all, it is important for them to be able to shape it in a way that presents them in a favorable and professional light.
Secondarily, the idea of digital space as just as important as physical space stuck with me. I had never considered it in that way before, but Leigh Alexander’s “The Soft Truth” and Black Mirror’s episode “Hang the DJ” really drove the idea home. “The Soft Truth” explores the idea that a person’s digital identity exists in fragments and can have an impact on a person’s life depending on which fragment of that identity is most present. “Hang the DJ” considers the “system” that every person is admitted into once they begin to use the internet, and how there is no real escape from the algorithm, as “everything happens for a reason”. Algorithms have no mercy– they quantify us based on a number of traits to get a holistic view of us as consumers, which we explored in our Python coding practice. Nowadays, they are quite accurate. Because of this, we really are at the disposal of programmer bias, and like Douglas Rushkoff explains in “Program or Be Programmed,” we need to understand how to change the underlying structures of the digital world we live in; otherwise, we consent to whatever system is chosen for us as a default. No matter how arbitrary these factors might seem, they are always meant to sell us something… and sell us to someone.