The following text is the original speech I wrote for Gogbot’s Kick-off. The actual version missed some words here and there, but the structure and overall message was kept intact.
The mass confusion created by the overwhelming amount of information that we’re subjected to everyday is only possible because of how advanced and how pervasive digital technologies are. Because yes, lies and propaganda have always been used for controlling societies, but not ever in the history of human civilization have we been as suffocated with opinions, memes, videos, and all kinds of unending streams of data.
Digital technologies infiltrate every bit of our lives, sneaking into our political debates, shaping even our closest friendships, eliciting reactions to the million catastrophes happening simultaneously around the world.
And it seems like some of us can’t get enough of it. Because we keep unlocking our phones, just coming back for more of it. We unlock it from our beds the moment we wake up; in the toilet; on our lunch breaks; every single day.
But it’s a bit lazy to blame this so-called ‘Technology’ as the root of all our problems, as an abstract monster that is out of our control and to which we are doomed to be enslaved.
We sometimes forget that even the most complex algorithms and AIs depend on design decisions which are pushed by politics and ideologies. We forget that as users we can turn technologies off, or around, or upside down.
We decide the fate of technologies just as much as technologies decide our fate. And I think that it is under this understanding we could begin to recalibrate reality.
In my branch of philosophy, some people argue that reality is actually performed. What that means is that reality is not something that exists apart from ourselves, that we then analyze from a distance, as if it is happening beyond our control. No, reality is being constructed by us, with what we say and what we do.
Like David Graeber once wrote, “the ultimate, hidden Truth of the world, is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
And this is an incredibly powerful idea for activism because it confirms that when we speak up for what we believe in, when we act as if we were in the society we want to live in, we are effectively changing the world. We are effectively recalibrating reality. And just like that, your words and actions have the power to recalibrate reality.
Except there’s one problem. We all don’t just inhabit our own individual realities. We share a collective one. We share it with our friends who’ve got our backs and the best intentions for us, but we also share it with people who wouldn’t think twice in harming us to get what they want.
So reality becomes this field of struggle with everyone shaping it, whether consciously or not. Take ‘climate change’ for instance. A hotter planet is our current reality. Why? For once, because some really influential and powerful people are making an economy based on fossil fuels the only possible reality. The climate reporter Emily Atkin said in an interview, “climate change is not something that is happening to us, it is something that is being done to us.
Likewise, the infocalypse is not something that is just happening to us, it is something that is being done to us. There’s a fortune behind YouTube’s recommendations algorithms that push conspiracy theories. There’s a fortune being done behind the economy of keeping your attention, scrolling, and liking, and sharing. Someone is profiting from it.
So the way I see it is that we either consume and consume information feeding into the mass confusion and the infocalypse, or we take some control back and become accountable for the things we create, and the things we put out there, and how that shapes reality.
So that’s my message for you today: Turn digital technologies around, and focus on what you put out there. This is what Extinction Rebellion Enschede and my dear friends, Clare Farrell, co-founder of the movement and This Ain’t Rock n Roll tried to do with the installation at the Oude Markt: a confrontation with our horrifying reality of mass extinction but offering each one of us the possibility of creating a different reality.