It was a delight and a challenge to have the opportunity earlier today to present a keynote for this year’s IFIP 9.4 conference on Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World in the form of a thought experiment on the topic of “Freedom, enslavement and the digital barons“.
My main aim was to explore how thinking about the “unfree” can help us better understand the intersection between freedom and digital tech. In particular I focused on five main themes: some of the ways in which academics have previously considered the concept of freedom within the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D); ways of understanding “unfreedom”; six examples of digital enslavement; the relationships between freedom, rights and responsibilities; and the ways in which people in general and academics in particular can resist enslavement by the digital barons.
The examples of digital enslavement that I briefly explored were:
- Digital addiction
- We are the data
- Governments enforcing use of digital systems for government services
- Labour exploitation (through extending the working week)
- Digital poverty and education
- Digital tech contributing to modern slavery
Time precluded the inclusion of several other forms of enslavement that I might have considered. Drawing on my medievalist backgroung, I was especially interested in the role and interests of the Digital Barons.
In part, this keynote drew on arguments that I have previously addressed in more detail in
- Prolegomena on Human Rights and Responsibilities
- The advantages of being unconnected to the Internet: a thought experiment
- Reclaiming ICT4D
I also made it clear that appropriately designed digital tech can be used to great advantage by poor and marginalised communities, although given the theme of the confernce I concentrated exclusively on “digital enslavement” and the role of the “digital barons”.
The full slide deck (in .pdf format) is available here without the transitions and animations. It also omits the subtitles in Spanish that were included for our colleagues in Peru who had originally been planning to host us in person.