Trust and New Technology – Where Do We Draw The Line?

The majority of us, particularly those belonging to the generation of young people known as Millenials, would not think twice before fervently nodding as a response the question of whether we could trust the social networks that we used, the technology that we encountered on a daily basis. And why wouldn’t we? After all, having passed through adolescence at times when technology was rapidly developing, few of us know a life whereby sharing, liking and tweeting does not make up a significant proportion of our daily activity.

Trust and New Technology was the third of a series of debates held at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon, concerning the notion of trust through the eyes of young people. Lead by DJ, broadcaster and music editor Gemma Cairney, the debate also featured prominent figures in the media industry and online sectors, including Emma Carr from Big Brother Watch, 18-year-old blogger Claudia Andrew and ChildLine representative Hannah Flynn. What was fantastic was the diversity of the panel, who not only questioned the value and existence of privacy in our modern, digitised society but also encouraged young people, as the centres of this age of proliferated social media use, to freely criticise those at the top, whether that be in the arts or in politics.

The Free Word Centre itself is a building of extraordinary interiors; upon entrance, I was mesmerised by the various quotes of ambition and empowerment that plastered the walls. This was undoubtedly a place to debate the changing culture of humanity and to empower young people to challenge authority. Before we addressed the difficult questions of the night, Deanna Rogers, UK Poetry Slam champion, read an original poem about the juxtaposition between the young girl who would eagerly await the tooth fairy and the young girl of today who sleeps with her smartphone under her pillow and eagerly awaits checking her social media networks when she wakes up. Perhaps our digital age is not as dehumanising as people seem to think; perhaps, instead, it is just an evolution of humanity.

Privacy, as mentioned before, seems to be a luxury in contemporary society, but, as was pointed out in the debate, it allows us not only to negotiate our relationship with the ever-changing face of technology, but also with family, with friends, and with our governments. Breaches of privacy on the internet, whether through cookies or otherwise, have become so pertinent that we often fail to think twice about who has our information and how they have acquired it; logging into my Facebook now, I can see the ridiculous Bollywood themed adverts on the side that are appearing thanks to my Indian surname. But as somebody who wants to go into the advertising industry, I have to question whether it is morally just to be using somebody’s private information to bombard them with tailored advertising. Staying on the subject of social media, however, it was pointed out by a fellow audience member that websites like Tumblr, where there is a community of pro-anorexia, pro-self-harm, pro-suicide blogs, are positively screaming for tighter regulation. This is no longer a question of violating privacy, but of protection.

A common perception is that we are currently living in what Carr described as a “Big-Brothery” state, whereby we live in the illusion of democracy and the government is, in fact, following the trail of breadcrumbs we leave on our internet history. Although there is no way of proving that this is actually the case, the investigative processes of reading emails present two opposing points of view – on one hand, why should everybody be treated as if they are a suspect, but on the other hand, perhaps we need this practice in order to disarm serious criminals. Cairney mentioned what she called the “dark side of the internet”, a frightening environment in which the worst of criminals are able to surpass parameters. Where, then, is the line between security and liberty?

The overriding principles that everybody was able to agree on however, were that we firstly were in dire need of education on the new technology that we use so frequently and secondly that our legal system needed to adapt to our current cultural climate; the former statement was supported by the fact that in educating ourselves, we can learn to protect ourselves, and the latter by the undeniable fact that our use of digital media has grown hugely since these laws were created around 2000. Another haunting poem from Deanna Rogers about a digital relationship left us questioning whether our own relationships with Web 2.0 were abusive ones.

Written by Sharlene Gandhi

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