Homo Digitalis and Homo Vivens

Image Source: India TV News

George Orwell’s, 1984 depicts a Dystopian society that has come back to haunt us with what is called project Pegasus. Orwell’s literary trope of big brother watching over citizens seems to have become real. The Pegasus controversy has awakened us from a deep slumber. We are haunted by a terrifying spectre of the big brother and the need for cyber-dissident has become urgent to counter the gaze that keeps a watch over us. What does the gaze do to us? Does the loss of privacy affect us in any way? How do we deal with the paradox of the prying eyes that see while remaining hidden? Do these prying eyes make us colour blind and we begin to look at the world as black or white? Do we entertain a secret desire for surveillance? Does that mean this secret desire to keep a watch over others is fuelling our gaze on Facebook , Instagram, Snapchat and other social network platforms? What if we have also succumbed to an exhibitionist desire to portray ourselves on the same platforms. Are we riding an unspeakable desire to self-expose that makes us pursue an unquenchable desire to be looked at, minutely inspected and followed?

We are facing a new expository power. It has a different logic which is algorithmic and is based on the lure of the copy. We are once again mesmerised by the world of copies. We enjoy our own copies and those of others on social media platforms. We are aware that we are watched on social media platforms and we have come to love it. We have entered the virtual transperence of life. We are living in an expository society. We are data subjects. We are now homo digitalis. We are all living a mad frenzy of disclosure. We have come to like WikiLeaks. The world of virtual transparence has desensitized us to digital surveillance and has made us vulnerable targets to targeted invasion into our privacy as we can see with what has been called the Pegasus project. Leaks about the eyes that see us by hacking our phones have terrified us. Such totalitarian practices have minimum or no tolerance in our society. We all have a right to secret. We have a right to privacy or invisibility. We have the right to resist this totalitarian drift of our democratic politics.

We seem to be having a secret without a secret in the world of tansperence. It has transformed our relationship with the Government as the spectre of the eyes of a Big Brother is haunting us and has afflicted our consciousness. Although we have been subjected to unseen surveillance for a long time through CCTV, our smartphone has rendered us accessible to all kinds of snooping eyes and ears. This is why we have to become vigilant to the ill impacts of our information-driven society. We will need more cyber-dissidents of the mould of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden who can catch these prying eyes in the act of seeing and alert us so that we can seek protection from the gaze of Pegasus and their ilk. We are subjected to all kinds of surveillance. Our Governments want dataveillance and are hell-bent to collect it by hook or crook threatening our civil liberties. Dataveillance allows Governments to access intimate details about a person and his/ her beliefs and lifestyle. It allows Government to know a person’s political leanings and associations, medical issues, religious beliefs and practices, martial infidelities etc. Knowledge being power, Governments desire to have knowledge of the intimate lives of their citizens, so as to increase their power and control over them. To achieve this goal, it appears that some Governments have become hactivists.

To understand and address our complex condition, we have to scrutinize our own desire. We seem to have a desire to watch and be watched. We enjoy becoming peeping Toms and exhibitionist Joes. The watching Tom and exhibiting Joe is interlocked within us. There is a blurring of boundaries between the watcher and the watched. We enjoy both watching and being watched. We are homo digitalis. We enjoy our expository society. We have embraced the logic of Leaks. It identifies human struggles not as left versus right, faith versus reason but as an individual or a small community versus an institution, nation, culture or faith. We are accepting this logic of Leaks without question. Hence our enjoyment of the logic of the Leaks has rendered us vulnerable to be victimized by vested interests that might include our own Government through the manipulation of our digital presence and insertion of fabricated information into our digital domains so that even innocent person can be made to look demonic.

The manufacture of perception is geared to manufacture of our consent so that no eyeball can leak the secrecy of the vested interests. It is paradoxical that vested interest guards its secrecy by violating the secrets of individual and weak communities. We have the challenge to understand the logic of the Leaks that presents the Governments and their agencies a Cyber-dissidents and manufacture our consent and belief of an individual/ community and label him/her/ them as loyal or betrayers. This discourse around loyalty and betrayal becomes the hiding place for the disloyalty and betrayal of our Governments. This is why we have the challenge to assess the promises and perils of our expository society. The fact that we have evolved as homo digitalis, we have the challenge to make our new condition an emancipative experience. Homo digitalis has to become homo vivens. We have the challenge to be fully alive to all sides of our digital existence and not simply dissolve ourselves into its intoxicating glow.

We are indeed living in anachronic times and have the challenge to keep a watch on ourselves and our submission to the lures of our expository society and its culture. We have to turn the culture of surveillance on its head by subjecting our Governments into surveillance itself and thus keep a vigilant eye on its functioning. To achieve this goal we have to adopt the culture of vigilance and approach the reigning narratives, discourses with a salt of suspicion and scrutiny. The digital world wants us to see everything as black and white. Life is complex cannot be simplified by mere digitization. Each of us has the challenge to be cyber-dissidents. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves in the enjoyment of surrogate cyber-dissidents. Today the surrogate cyber-dissidence is played to perfection by our Governments. It is the Government that is hiding behind this play. Even opposition is silenced by some dissident Governments. We have the challenge to understand, expose and out-live this deception. Otherwise, we will live like socially programmed automatons. It is our right and duty to remain humans and resist social programming that is affecting us.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao