Unfreedom digitalized

Authors: Nancy Ettlinger*, Department of Geography, Ohio State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Economic Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: algorithm, big data, digital subject, unfreedom, resistance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper engages the effects of algorithmic life on digital subjects in daily life. I conceptualize unfreedom in the digital era paradoxically as the abandonment of the freedom to choose in the context of an infusion of algorithmically delivered choices into everyday life, and the ways in which many digital subjects relinquish their stake in thought and action to artificial intelligence (AI). Like a brain drain to the cloud, digital subjects permit algorithms to control increasing parts of their lives, perversely for the benefit of firms that profit from digital subjects' prioritization of new efficiencies and their submission to algorithmic management while surrendering privacy and abandoning their sense of self and place. We know from critical scholarship that firms capitalize on desires, to the point of manufacturing digital addictions to ensure continual profitability. I explain the apparent desire to belong to smart-era life by the digital condition of atomization, or the siloing of individuals, which drives subjects to connect for exposure and recognition or achievement, a route provided by the normalization of virtual connectivity in social and work life. Governmentalities are, however, imperfect due in part to contingencies as well as reflexivity and strategies to resist smart subjection.

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