Human Affairs 30 (4):559-569 (2020)

Katherine Dormandy
University of Innsbruck
Digital technology is rapidly transforming human life. But our cognition is honed for an analog world. I call this the problem of digital whiplash: that the digital transformation of society, like a vehicle whose sudden acceleration injures its occupants, is too fast to be safe. I focus on the unprecedented phenomenon of digital surveillance, which I argue poses a long-term threat to human autonomy that our cognition is ill-suited to recognize or respond to. Human cognition is embodied and context-sensitive, and thus faces four problems of digital whiplash vis-à-vis digital surveillance. First is the problem of signal sparsity, that there are few if any perceptible indications of digital surveillance. Second is the problem of signal elusiveness, that the few indications there are prohibitively difficult to discover. Third is the distraction problem, that using digital technologies corrodes the cognitive abilities we need to recognize and respond to digital surveillance. Fourth is the hooking problem, that digital technologies are engineered to cultivate dependency. I address, among other objections, the idea that we choose to exchange our privacy for the use of digital technologies, so their use is in fact an expression of autonomy. The response to digital whiplash, I argue, is not to slow down the digitalization of society in its current form so that we can adapt our cognitive capacities. It is to allow ourselves the time to reflect on and debate whether digitalization, in its current form, is delivering a socially and ethically desirable future.
Keywords philosophy of technology  digitalization  digital surveillance  privacy  digital
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DOI 10.1515/humaff-2020-0049
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Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Action in Perception.Alva Noë - 2005 - MIT Press.
Action in Perception. [REVIEW]Alva Noë - 2005 - Journal of Philosophy 102 (5):259-272.

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