Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

When All Else Fails We Turn to Art, Part II

-- By AlinaDvorovenko - 3 May 2021

Seeing is Believing, But Feeling is The Truth

“The power of the words in the air, the power of the story and the power of the oration […] addresses itself to the human imagination through the sense of hearing, which is different for hominid primates from the sense of sight.”

My experience with online law school has certainly confirmed this distinction. For the past year, I read and I listened and I gazed into the outside world on appropriately moody rainy days. And yet, reflecting back on it, I realize that I have not really done all that much thinking and have not really let my imagination take me very far. It could be because I was not always reading the right things. But I also think, bringing back the premise of my previous essay, that the reading by itself was not quite enough. Looking back on the past year, I believe that what was missing for me was the ability to see and be inspired, which would give my imagination that necessary bit of encouragement. I needed to see, really see, the professors who taught me and the supervisors who trained me, to believe whatever it is that they were trying to get across. It was necessary to really see them face to face, while occupying the same room and without the Big Brother Telescreen between us, so that I would not just memorize the lessons and learn how to regurgitate them with hastily manufactured confidence, but would actually believe the teachings strongly enough to be inspired into action. While the words that I read did somewhat fuel my imagination, I missed being inspired and encouraged by the emotion of teachers, leaders, and peers that can only be seen and felt in person.

Despite all of the developments in high speed internet and crystal clear image quality, I do not believe that the Telescreen can give us the nuances we need to properly read the room around us and become adequately hypnotized by the speakers. It cannot reveal all of the body language minutiae of the orator, nor does it allow her to scan the room and meet the gaze of the listeners to read the emotion on their faces and respond with her own. Even in one-on-one conversations, we cannot avoid sensing the presence of the technological mediator. The two gazes stare into the electronic abyss and never truly meet.

I am humbled by the fact that it took me quite so many decades to fully comprehend the many subtleties involved in “seeing” something, and to understand how many of them do not involve visual stimuli. I cannot say that this understanding makes me grateful for the past year, but in the spirit of drawing out lessons from every life experience, at least there is this.

Moving Pictures on Moving Screens

I do not believe that everyone will necessarily share my view on the necessity of the offline experience. The generation raised on internet friends, whose members are known as “digital natives,” is likely more inclined to believe the people on the other side of the screen. It certainly seems like many of them do, for such purposes as deciding what is popular and worth spending one’s money on.

And here I am reminded of Professor Moglen’s remark “I want some 15-year-old in Taipei to make [the Freedom Box] cool on TikTok? .” I think that is a brilliant idea. We can write books to help the children dream and imagine a different future. Then, we could address them, this generation that operates with the currency of coolness, through the sense of sight and on its own terms. The visual displays of coolness will motivate them to take action, much like a charismatic speaker addressing a room. It is out of fear of precisely this kind of inspiration – the kind that comes from visuals of protesting teens and Russian passports torn in half – that the Russian government turned to fining TikTok? and paying some users to post anti-protest propaganda. Our cause is anti-platform rather than anti-state. Thus, if we succeed, we will be pulling off a clever trick of using a social media platform to convert the people of this generation to the very cause of privacy and freedom that will later lead them to leave that very same platform.

Kaleidoscopic Personality

The people like me, who need to consume their visual inspiration in person, will still need talks and discussion groups and in-person interaction with their role models to give them the encouragement to act beyond just thinking and imagining.

Moreover, it is of course a generalization to only think about people’s preferences when it comes to learning in the duality of the digital and the offline. For one, there is a plethora of forms that offline education and, as I learned this year, online education can take on. Then, just as important is the recognition that there are certain remote and in-person elements that work particularly well for different individuals – our preferences towards teaching methods being as diverse as other aspects of our personality. And in the 21st century, what reasons do we really have for not providing, or at least aiming to provide, each individual with the methods they need to effectively learn as much as they desire? We can and we should provide different tools and employ different nudges for different individuals.

Getting Out of My Head

The important thing, and another thing that online law school has taught me, is to remember to come out of one’s head and actually interact with the world that we spend so much time theorizing about. One of the first things that Professor Moglen taught me was that lawyers make things happen in society using words. I am still working on finding the right words. But the past year has served as a particularly striking reminder of the importance of using those words with respect to society and not just leaving them in my head.

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Webs Webs

r3 - 04 May 2021 - 02:49:24 - AlinaDvorovenko
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