An Apology to Digital Technology

Lani Bond - Writer

Dear Digital Technology,

When growing up, I rejected you. Of course, I still used you, and it just emphasises my privilege that I thought I didn’t need you - but I remember feeling anger and resentment, being raised to believe that the development of social media was poisonous to society. I believed it was toxic to our personal wellbeing and that it would increase isolation and anxiety. This belief was fuelled by the intermittent concerns of the time, which often warned of the damaging impact of social media on our wellbeing, attention span, sleep patterns and ability to create meaningful connections with others.

Of course, these studies have justified causes for concern, and care should still be taken. However, at a time like this I - along with millions of people who access it - am incredibly thankful for this development. With a device and some Wifi, people can contact their loved ones from across the globe and keep up to date on relevant public health advice. Even the novel ability to send an entertaining meme, or a compilation video of bored (but creative) people recreating famous movie scenes from their homes, can lift people for a moment in a time of uncertainty. Along with many other things we take for granted, it is highly appreciated right now.

man in blue dress shirt smiling beside woman in black and red floral dress

To further appreciate the potential of digital technology, it is important to recognise how it can be an asset for change across the globe, especially in the promotion of human rights. #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter have been propelled through social media. However, there are many lesser known cases in which marginalised communities, or previously voiceless people, have been able to connect with the wider world to raise awareness of their problems in an autonomous and unified way. This blog will outline just one of these cases.

The Quipu Project - Sharing Stories and Solidarity

The Quipu Project in Peru is a participatory online platform. It was founded after the forced sterilisation of 272,028 women and 22,004 men happened during a family planning programme led by President Fujimori in the 1990s; many died as a result of the procedure, and thousands of survivors left psychologically scarred.

Previously, these people had no means of media representation due to language barriers and limitations of remote village locations. The Quipu Project enables those affected by the sterilisations to call a free phoneline and leave an audio testimony. This is then archived on the platform, contributing to the interactive documentary which is used to raise awareness of this important political context in Peru’s history. Users can also listen to other messages; this enables solidarity and the opportunity to understand their experience in accordance with others, for the first time. This project has platformed issues such as Indigenous reproductive rights and gender inequality, as well as the elitism that exists within Peru’s institutional structures.

As a result of this global connection, the Quipu project and the affected communities have received international news coverage and academic funding. Indigenous leaders have also appeared in interviews, sharing their stories and demanding justice. In this case, therefore, digital technology has brought to light the devastating consequences of an oppressive governmental programme and has enabled the interconnectivity and empowerment of its victims.

There are countless other cases of the successful use of social media to heighten awareness; for example, the powerful Chilean movement, whose performance of “Un violador en tu camino” (“A rapist in your way”) recently went viral in denouncing the machismo culture of the violence against women in Latin America.

Of course, digital technology is not a utopian saviour, shining a light on the shaded corners of the world. As an entity alone, it does not create justice and equality, it does not create world peace, it does not solve climate change and it does not save lives. In fact, used poorly, it can (as my sceptical past-self incessantly acknowledged) stimulate corruption and social damage. There are also opinions concerned about the effectiveness of raising awareness. Therefore social media is not intrinsically ‘good’.

However, social media opens opportunities to voice opinions. Author Erik Qualman says, “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” Used well, therefore, social media can be a powerful vessel for change, solidarity and self-expression. Right now, in this crisis, it deserves to be celebrated.




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