Paradox of (digital) Literacy

The human story is riddled with irony, and the rise of technology presents a particularly potent example. We celebrate progress, touting innovation and advancement as hallmarks of a superior society. Yet, upon closer examination, this narrative unravels, revealing a darker undercurrent: a pattern of exploiting periods of upheaval to consolidate power and rig the system in favor of the privileged few. This essay delves into this paradox, focusing on the tech industry and its potential to create a new form of feudalism, disguised under the guise of decentralization.

The irony lies in the tech industry’s persecution complex, often lamenting discrimination and prejudice. However, this narrative overlooks the systemic advantages that already favor them. They hold the reins of information, shaping our perception of reality through algorithms and curated content. They wield immense economic power, their platforms becoming the new marketplaces, often at the expense of traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. This power imbalance, masked by cries of victimhood, creates a fertile ground for manipulation and exploitation.

Furthermore, the tech industry’s attempts to decentralize, often hailed as a democratizing force, might be masking a more sinister agenda. By weaponizing the unique bonds within the tech community, they risk creating a self-serving echo chamber, where dissent is silenced and power remains concentrated within a select few. This insular system resembles a feudal structure, with “Kinglets,” “satrapies,” and “fiefdoms” vying for control, all while the promise of fair distribution remains an illusion.

This potential for a tech-fueled feudalism is exacerbated by the “paradox of (digital) literacy.” While individuals possess the technical skills to code and build, critical thinking and access to accurate information remain elusive. This selective literacy creates a fertile ground for manipulation, where individuals are easily swayed by misinformation and propaganda. The information overload further complicates the issue, making it difficult to discern truth from fiction.

Addressing this paradox requires more than just technical training. It demands fostering “sensorial literacy,” a concept that transcends mere coding and writing skills. It encompasses critical thinking, information discernment, and the ability to navigate the complexities of the digital landscape. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, medium specialization is for insects: true literacy requires “mediocre competence in 3-4 McLuhan mediums.” In other words, we must move beyond specialization and cultivate a well-rounded understanding of the various communication channels that shape our world.

To break free from the rigged game, we must become “mediocrely competent” in a multitude of mediums, developing a well-rounded understanding of the world around us.

In conclusion,

The essay posits a contentious claim: technological progress, despite its disruptive nature, often leads to the consolidation of power, ultimately favoring a select few. It argues that this occurs through a complex interplay of factors, including:

  • Perceived Persecution: Tech workers, while enjoying significant advantages, often perceive themselves as unfairly targeted, overlooking their inherent privilege.
  • Weaponized Community: The strong sense of community within the tech industry can be leveraged to create a self-serving ecosystem that reinforces existing power structures.
  • Centralized Decentralization: Decentralization efforts, often lauded for democratizing access, often fail to address the unequal distribution of power and resources, potentially creating a new form of feudalism with “Kinglets, satrapies, fiefdoms, barons and vassals.”
  • The Paradox of (Digital) Literacy: Technical literacy, while valuable, does not guarantee critical thinking or access to accurate information. This “paradox of literacy” can create individuals who are functionally illiterate in certain contexts, susceptible to manipulation and misinformation.
  • Sensorial Illiteracy: Beyond technical skills, the essay highlights the importance of “sensorial literacy,” encompassing an intuitive understanding of the nuances and implications of technology. However, it acknowledges the difficulty in defining and cultivating this elusive quality.