To Waldenpond or not to Waldenpond

Unhacking webcams by putting up a toy camera that displays different scenes, part of a speculative design project by Dutch designer Pia-Mari Stute that produces fake data to protect the user’s privacy.

There’s this bit about Waldenponding — essentially meaning to deal with overwhelming usage of technology by leaving it all behind, or in its crude definition, “smash your smartphone and go live in a log cabin to reclaim your attention and your life from being hacked by evil social media platforms” — that I read a few months ago and one that I kept contemplating to do. It seems tempting to just delete all your social media platforms and go live in a literal log cabin somewhere all by yourself — although knowing I won’t survive just as long, give and take, at most 2 days? It’s also tough because I find a lot of useful information, journal articles, book recommendations etc. through social media platforms, believe it or not, and as a result, I read better and learn to form my opinions much more critically. Author Venkatesh Rao also said, it is “a terrible philosophy at both a personal and collective level.” So (some of) you decide to leave, leaving a void in the attention ecosystem that the big companies have been generating through multiple algorithmic pyrotechnics, and return to slow(er) media, leaving those who are vulnerable to disinformation to continually amplify more disinformation, and guess what? That is essentially an attention hack by itself e.g. “powerful religious leaders telling smart people to check out and unplug from information flows. That way, they get the power”. Entirely plugging out is also an act of privilege — “Should we all just leave Facebook? That may sound attractive but it is not a viable solution. In many countries, Facebook and its products simply are the internet.” Not to mention, some immigrants who live abroad keep in touch with their friends and families back home and everywhere else around the world through social media platforms, in some cases, the only way for them to contact each other altogether. It’s more of a point of letting us use the platforms at our own discretion.

So I think at this point of time, there’s this definite argument on the value of Waldenponding, and if one ever decides to do so one day, then like Rao said, “at least you’ll have a better idea of what you are choosing and why.”

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