In the course of my work, I have been thinking about digital resistance. I spend a lot of my time on the computer, on my cell phone or other digital devices, and have often noted that while they are in many ways central to my life, they are the source of a great deal of stress, difficulty and even pain and material suffering. Yet, while marginalized communities have always had networks and traditions for providing care - emotional, mental, physical - in the physical, corporeal world, the relatively recent advent of digital hyperconnectivity and hyper-presence has allowed little time for similar strategies in the digital realm.
I would like to start a conversation about this topic, but I'm afraid that I don't have all the tools. What I know about corporeal self-care, self-defense and self-preservation is built on generations of lived experience, traditions passed through my family and my friends' families, gigabytes of information written into books and articles and essays and into my body and my memories. No such history exists to inform me about my interactions with digital media - there are parallels, to be sure, but I believe firmly that the digital age is a novelty, a state of being for humans that has not occurred yet by linear time-reckoning. As such it presents very new difficulties, joys and oppressions. Yet, I also want to know what kinds of already-existing ancestral or otherwise wisdom could speak to the situation I find myself and my communities in.
Hence the question I want to ask is "How can marginalized people protect themselves and more in the digital world?" - and currently it is a question I cannot begin to ask. What are we protecting ourselves from exactly? Who are "we", given that digital identities are more than ever in continual flux, negotiation and re-definition? What is the digital world and what is its history?
So, instead of tackling an impossibly big subject head on, I'd like to start figuring out the things we'd need to know or invent in order to have a working discourse on digital defense.
Here are some ideas:
1. We need a clear and specific reckoning of digital oppression, for instance:
A comprehensive setting out of the kinds of exploitation practiced by digital media giants like Facebook, twitter, google etc - and their material consequences, and how they affect marginalized communities in particular. Particularly urgent is the need for some kind of discussion about mental health and social media.
A history and analysis of cyber-attacks; for instance the phenomenon of "doxxing" practiced by various right-wing groups, hacking, internet scams, virus programming, etc.
A comprehensive description and analysis of surveillance techniques, who's practicing them, what the risks are, etc (this probably already exists.)
2. We need to have conversations about what constitutes the digital world.
We need to resist the liberal notion of the disembodied digital "playground" and recognize that the digital world, whatever that is, is a contested location of power and has deep and necessary connections to the corporeal world. The oft-repeated notion that marginalized people might find solidarity in the anonymity and convenience of digital communications must be critically scrutinized.
We need to find out and document what kinds of labor get erased when we draw the boundaries of a digital world, and if these kinds of labor are gendered and racialized. For instance,human resource management and code documentation are utterly crucial to any large software project, and at least one sociological study on software companies has revealed that this kind of labor is both much more likely to be performed by self-identified women and to be left out of discussions
about software development.
How accessible is the internet exactly? What do we assume about the universality or nature of internet access? Is there a universal 'digital world' that we are all plugged into, or is its access limited by factors of wealth, race, nationality, etc? Who then has a stake in digital warfare?
What is the history of online communications? Who has been left out of that history already, and who is currently writing it? Who has stakes in writing this history?
3. We need to define the possibilities and stakes for digital resistance
For instance, the 1960s-era idea of a media war, one of the backbones of the philosophy of nonviolent resistance, is predicated on the idea that hegemonic powers (read: governments, white supremacists and their institutions, large corporations) don't have complete control over the media. While that may have been true back then, it certainly isn't true now, and we need to move on from the idea of a media war that is winnable in terms of the current media infrastructure.
Given the impossibility of winning an old-school media war, what are the alternatives? How can we resist without taking on impossible fights?
I will admit readily that some of these answers or discussions exist already. (Please send links to me if you find them!) What is maybe more important is that we make them known and accessible, and put them into dialogues with each other.
Bio: Ada A. is an experimental composer residing in Philadelphia, but with roots elsewhere. They love children and would someday like to be paid to do what they're best at: worrying about computers. Ada performs and worries as Madam Data. Photo by Ada A.