On registering “lived digital-experience” #cybersecurity #democracy #workproposal

I have just stumbled across a lovely mental-health tool called Thinq Up, via @joelanman, previously of Verify and other government digital success-fame.

The tool is respectful, inasmuch as the data it suggests you harvest – by yourself – about your feelings, when you have them, what provokes them, and so forth – essentially a diary of gently and benevolently structured sort – remains in your browser rather than be gathered onto online server.  We cannot say – even so – who might dig into what from a security agency point-of-view, but at the very least from a design and technical perspective, the designer has clearly done everything he could.

I am interested in the tool from the point of view of perhaps a user trial or two:

But I am not simply interested from the perspective of mental health.  Or, at least, not from the perspective of mental health as generally understood.

I have described on these pages already the real-world lived experiences which have impacted my own wellbeing over the past couple of months (here, here, here, here and here – there are plenty more, if you care to trawl!).  A common thread running through all these articles and observations is the underlying threats to democratic discourse I think we are really suffering from.  And when I say really, I mean that the obvious ones, the ones the media talk about – gerrymandering, postal-vote fraud, interference by large media-corporations in due democratic process – really are the very least of our problems.

Far more significant even than the insidiously technological cyber-threats from nation-states such as Russia and others, where social-network discourse and debate clearly have been gamed, and where Silicon Valley has to a great degree assumed good faith in all its users – even as its own corporate behaviours rarely have consistently shown the same – is the manipulation being carried out, through nudge theory and practice, which countries and criminal networks across the globe express in specific institutions in specific regions, and in relation to specific – perhaps even targeted – individuals.  Individuals matter – we know this in Western liberal democratic traditions.  But they don’t just matter in that touchy-feely good-humoured manner of tolerant and civilised attitude.  Individuals, concrete individuals, can change the course of history.  And when I say the course of history, I mean the course of democracy.

Enemy nation-states and criminal networks across the globe know this, and will continue to apply the lessons.  The question is: are we prepared to counteract these behaviours and activities in meaningful ways?

At the very least, at the moment, we are allowing zemiological acts to be carried out on real-world lives and people.  What’s happening isn’t exactly illegal – rather, it’s a-legal: it operates in areas where legality is beside the point.

Now imagine that such tactics are being carried out at a much grander level, much as we are now realising with respect to our once beautiful, once democratically friendly, once technologically sound social-networks: but this time, on far more people; people who could hardly expect to appreciate a reasonable why; people who would never even consider their life travails as being anything but the randomness of universal existence; people who, if they presupposed any such things, might end up put away for just their thoughts.

So if two hundred journalists, why not twenty-thousand, a hundred-thousand, a million democratic citizens across the globe?  After all, the payback would be astonishingly fabulous: control and direct the destiny of Western liberal democracy till the end of goddamn time!

It doesn’t really bear thinking about, now does it?  And only to think about it is to run the risk of all kinds of accusations of mental distress – where not, extremely, full-blown disorder.

But if it were happening, even just to a degree, then at the very most, in the full knowledge of its actuality, our security agencies would be showing they don’t care half as much as they should for the safety, security, integrity and livelihoods of very ordinary people – people who had been identified by all sides as possessing an extraordinary potential they would never find themselves allowed to realise.

*

This, then, is where I think tools such as @joelanman’s Thinq Up might come in: not to register varying states of mental ill-health as such, but help figure out the journeys and realities of what I am beginning to call “lived digital-experience”, which an utterly distressing set of environmental cues are forcing many people to experience more and more.

As I said some months ago in my piece, “Communicating with agents in the field using urban environments and artefacts of consumer society”, the tools are now out there for both awful and wonderful communication to take place.  What we now need to do is work out exactly where we are as a civilisation, where others – perhaps enemies of the state in ways we have hardly begun to consider! – are leading us, and how we can protect our future democracy from considerable potential damage.

As well as – in some properly meaningful way – guarantee its significant and prospering health.

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