Such an obvious question, isn’t it? Freedom of thought? Of course, we need it, and how could we not have it since we enjoy the freedom of speech? Ah, but the two are not the same.
Are your thoughts really your own?
The digital age has brought with it plenty of phenomena that highlight people’s willingness to be influenced and deceived as long as it fits the narrative of their life. We live in a filter bubble because we tend to engage mostly with what we already believe in. We sort ourselves into tribes because we feel better around those who are just like us. We spread fake news unknowingly because it feels good to share articles that support and amplify our worldview.
It’s important to understand that the digital world has been shaped by and for our engagement. That’s what the advertisers want, isn’t it? An engaged audience. Exposing anyone to distressing material that could challenge their worldview is in no advertiser’s interest. That kind of content you need to look for.
And when you let your skeptical guard down, you ease into passive reception to whatever pops into your feed. A fitting name, feed. Because we are being fed, whole feasts of things that engage us the most, therefore keeping us glued to the screen for longer, making us generate more revenue. We all know it, and yet we all engage willingly.
If you follow this train of thought and the easiness with which new manipulation tools take hold (TikTok, for example, a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to gain a digital foothold in the western conscience), you need to wonder….
Is freedom of thought a fundamental right of a human being? Do we want it? Need it? Depend on it?
And by freedom of thought, I don’t even mean the freedom of having your views; everyone has those in abundance, but the freedom to engage in a way that’s not driven by someone’s financial or political interest.
Because that kind of freedom isn’t ours right now. A small tweak to Google’s search algorithm can mean life or death to some companies. Facebook’s algorithm dictates your specific interests, even if you were the one to give it some broad guideline to begin with. Twitter and Reddit can be an echo chamber. And even this blog, while mine and mine alone, is also an attempt at making people think differently.
What use is the freedom to choose your drink if all that’s available is soda anyway?
And while certain independence of thought has always been my preference (that comes with having grown up in a country recovering from Soviet influence), I’m not sure that’s good either. All those lunatics claiming that coronavirus is a hoax are free thinkers too, after all.
I ask again, is freedom of thought a fundamental right of a human being?
It’s an important point because maybe if we stopped pretending our thoughts were really our own, we could—instead of discussing which brand of soda is the best—discuss what matters to us, human beings, not politicians or corporate entities.
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