Wanna watch the latest film? You don’t have to grab your car, drive for 30 mins and head over to the mall when you can watch it on Netflix, sitting in your couch. The newest albums of your favourite singer are just one click away on Spotify. And if you are too bored you can always check on your crush, thanks to her Instagram stories.

We live in a world that’s connected like never before. Which makes us question the purpose of the internet – is it freedom incarnate?
For many of us, if we think about it, it might seem like that. We are no longer stuck in ancient times, going through publishers or agents to showcase our talents. We do not require any newspaper to voice our opinions. Plus, if we had something ‘not normal’ according to society, we do not have to hide it but actually, find other people having similar traits.

The internet has brought forward community after community, disenfranchised, invisible and otherwise, out of the closet. Be it through comments, Twitter posts, or memes, you have the ability to connect as well as influence others on the internet. All you need to do is click a button. Now, your voice will no longer be suppressed. You can make a choice to speak out and there will be someone to hear.

But is the freedom in the digital age really an illusion?

Google analytics phone / Photographer: Edho Pratama | Source: Unsplash

The Internet can be referred to as a tool. Like any other tool, some people become experts of it while others might be learning to excel in it. But there are also many who have almost metaphorically bought the internet. Take Google for instance – the big giant that owns YouTube as well as keeps the enviable AdSense in their pockets. The search engine is everywhere on the internet! While Google has a strict privacy policy, they still collect some minor information about you which helps them to generate specific content targeted for you. You might have seen how Amazon starts showing you similar books if you are a bibliophile and have often searched about those kinds of books through your Google account. That means that somehow, your information is spreading across platforms which are targeting their content or product.

Now, you might ask how it is affecting you or your freedom in this digital age?

youtube home screen / Photographer: Christian Wiediger | Source: Unsplash

Well– according to me– it is altering your behaviour or rather, setting your mind on a fixed path, therefore narrowing it down. This feature can be best demonstrated with YouTube videos. YouTube has many people talking about politics on both sides of the spectrum – right and left. There is a specific algorithm in which YouTube works, of course, but that is kept a secret. A few people claim to have cracked it, especially during the elections, but then, such algorithms are difficult to get into and YouTube keeps modifying them.

However, based on these algorithms, YouTube would like to recommend different videos. While it does not force you to watch those videos, and therefore, you get a sense of free will, it has been seen that about 70% of our viewing experience is based on the recommendations.

The internet can have a significant role in manipulating your behaviour. It is even assumed that through our Google searches and daily viewing experience, our behavioural profiles can be created which many companies can use for targeted advertising.

wall with security cameras / Photographer: Lianhao Qu | Source: Unsplash
Big brother is watching…

Next up is surveillance. We value our privacy a lot and while we know that there is certain information that tends to go out in social media and Google, most of our private information is safe with us. But by now you understand how elusive freedom is in the digital age, don't you? AI is coming in aiding biometric scanning. Face scanners are becoming a top-notch technology for security purposes. So, the day is not long when face scanners might take up your facial signature to get an insight into your private documents. In the UK, police are trying to use Facial recognition for profiling, something which might have a devastating effect on the privacy of the people. If such profiling indeed becomes mandated by the Government, we will be entering an Orwellian world. Our Freedom and Privacy will be in the hands of an all-seeing Government – a panopticon.

And a final note: While we may trust organizations like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. we should always remember that they are in it for profit. And if money remains the ending note, it never really goes too well. And trust me when I say this, you are the new product. Your data is what is making money for them.

However, let’s not end on a grim note. The internet is a revolutionary concept but like every other system, our free will is limited in it to a certain degree. For example, even in ‘Free-speech promoting’ sites like Reddit, we have moderators, deleting offensive and Hate-filled comments.

Our freedom extends as much as our social responsibility. Keep it appropriate, be kind, be responsible, and you will have as much freedom as you want in the digital age as well.

And if you are just getting started into digital marketing, you might like to join our academy and learn from my friends Garrett, Marc and Jara who put in a lot of time and effort to design the best courses to put you on a fast track to become a digital marketer.

You can also learn more about freedom culture from this video.

Mayukh Saha

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