Law in the Internet Society

A Vacation from Habits

-- By MengyiTu - 14 Oct 2019

It is 8:02 pm. I decided to start writing this essay at 6:40 pm. Between 6:40 and 8:02, I facetimed my husband who works in D.C., browsed Amazon for a mattress topper (but did not buy one), watched a YouTube? video, checked my Instagram account at least three times, the email alert on the right top of my laptop screen popped up at least six times, and I clicked immediately every single time. I have a phone and a laptop. They are both connected to the Internet. I keep chargers at hand so they never shut down, even at night when I sleep.

I am not unaware of how the Internet has shaped me. If I am not connected, I may have written half of my essay by now instead only the first paragraph. The Internet is full of distractions, and I am becoming more and more susceptible to them as I become older. The Internet is constantly trying to educate me. It tells me what I should eat for breakfast, what I should wear, how to cook my broccoli, and how to have a happy marriage… I obtain information and knowledge from the Internet, as well as my anxiety. I was born and raised in mainland China, where there is no Facebook, Instagram, YouTube? or Google. I spent the first 21 years of my life living without them. But now I am addicted to them, and I cannot imagine a life without them. For family reasons I have decided to go back to China after law school, but I was so concerned that I would lose access to those websites that I have chosen Hong Kong as my destination.

A New York Times article on the app TikTok? illustrates how many of us fell trap to the Internet. First, it makes one feel “the fear of missing out”. When one feels that everyone else is part of something, he or she will begin to wonder why he or she is not. After one is in, the app will “assertively answer anyone’s what should I watch with a flood.” The first thing TikTok? presents when you open the app is an algorithmic feed based on videos you have interacted with, or even just watched. “It never runs out of material. It is not, unless you train it to be, full of people you know, or things you’ve explicitly told it you want to see. It’s full of things that you seem to have demonstrated you want to watch, no matter what you actually say you want to watch.” The app “constantly learning from you and, over time, builds a presumably complex but opaque model of what you tend to watch and shows you more of that.” It is “a version of Facebook that was able to fill your feed before you’d friended a single person.”

Do we know ourselves better than the apps on our phone? Probably not. The apps we use every day are turning us in directions we are not aware of. We look at things the apps want us to look at. We live in ways the apps want us to live. We have become human beings that the apps want us to become. But what can we do about it? Is there a cure? Even if there is cure, will we be willing to take it, or have we gone too far? An individual may be willing to give up his or her privacy for convenience, but the value of privacy and freedom for the entire human race is incomparable. Or maybe crisis must erupt before reconstruction will be commenced.

As Professor Moglen suggested, I made some efforts to recover from this style of life shaped by the technology. I unsubscribed from a bunch of email lists. I put away my phone when I decided that I needed to focus on work. I deleted TikTok? . I thought I would be bored. I was so used to this fake feeling of self-importance from being distracted by notifications and demands all the time. I thought I would feel disconnected. The distractions were the assurance that I was up to date with my surroundings. I thought I would feel lost without them. But that's not the case.

I get a lot of fulfillment from having get things done faster. I have more time to get myself updated with news that I really need to know. My thinking become clearer without unrelated cloudy little thoughts hanging above my head. I sleep better by putting down my phone earlier after getting in bed. I have more time and energy to look at my surroundings, my family, and myself. I feel like I have gained back some control, of the flow of time, of how I would like to develop a habit, and of how to get rid of a habit I did not want, all of these are done by selective use of the internet.

Not quite the draft I suggested might be worth imagining. Rather the draft that results from imagining that draft. And well worth it. Whether there are more drafts, there is more responding to your inner flow of imagination now. You are seeking balance rather than uncritical immersion. Wherever you decide to go, that's what matters.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r5 - 19 Jan 2020 - 13:46:09 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM