The giant truth teller

An article from The Economist cites that the web will revolutionise social science just as the microscope and telescope transformed the natural sciences. Indeed, the use of internet evoluated from scientific and military fields (Howie, W., 2016), to everyday life niches, facilitating a better life-style and satisfying our needs and the growing number of necessities. However, this change involves significant exposure of private information, or at least information that we think is private and has a strong impact on our behaviour. In what ways does internet change our self-perception, collective perception, what are a few implicit problems and what do we learn from the giant truth-telling machinery?

To start with, we are witnessing an evolution of the concept of privacy as the access to the on-line world spreads its influence deep inside our lives. From gps devices, text messages, health tracking apps to google searches and enabling browser cookies, we are constantly leaving traces of behaviour online in exhange for a dose of gratification or some sort of utility. Consequentially, the purpose of the internet to be a vechicle of communication and data exchange (Ryan, J., 2013), seems to be fulfilled and its growth is constantly expanding. In presence of the given circumstances, one fundamental trait of human behaviour is heavily exposed – the practice of communicating untruths or defend ourselves with false or incomplete information.

90e02dd91d1a0b277deb70f147b4914bThe idea is that the advancement of technology gives us the possibility to discover new perspectives on behaviour. It also shows us how our interaction with each other is influenced and sometimes impeded by our idea of holding on to a specific set of beliefs and social norms, even with the price of the truth. For example, data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, spent four years analysing anonymous Google data. An article summarising his findings mentions that despite mainstream popularity of ideologies like racial or gender equality or a heavily sex-driven society, people’s internet searches show that in their ‘private lives’, people are still a long way from overcoming prudices and stereotypes and be representative of the ideas they advocate. For example, of all Google searches starting with “Is my two-year-old…,” the most common next word is “gifted”. But this question is not asked equally about boys and girls. Parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted? Parents are also one-and-a-half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is handsome (Stephens-davidowitz, 2017). Even if there may be some uncontrollable variables in the equation, it is quite evident that some biases are deeply ingrained in our psychology more than we’d care to believe. And in this situation it is the big scale internet data that helps us see the bigger picture and make us think about those problems.

Meanwhile, as our actual concept of privacy is challenged and also misused by poor social media communication, scam projects and commercial outlets, it leads to problems related to personal feelings of insecurity, uncertainity, and an accentuated psychological need for protection. While many opportunities to extend our range of possibilities are born with the expansion of our cognitive arsenal into technology as (Silva, 2017), there is a prominent need for reciprocal understanding and compassion in order for the technological evolution to have a constructive impact on our society.

Even if at an initial glance, the data we get access to is constantly showing us that the world is worse than we have thought, the great value of it is its ability to lead us from problems to solutions. We will probably keep hiding different aspects of our personalities or ways of thinking for some time but the internet showed us we are not alone in our desires even if at times this can be uncomfortable to accept.

References:

  • Ryan, Johnny. A history of the internet and the digital future. Reaktion Books, 2013.
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