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‘Find Love in Canada’: Distributed Selves, Abstraction, and the Problem of Privacy and Autonomy

Miller, Vincent (2020) ‘Find Love in Canada’: Distributed Selves, Abstraction, and the Problem of Privacy and Autonomy. In: Warfield, Katie and Abindin, Crystal and Cambre, Carolina, eds. Mediated Interfaces: The Body on Social Media. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 24-65. ISBN 978-1-5013-5618-6. E-ISBN 978-1-5013-5620-9. (KAR id:77661)

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This chapter will consider the uneasy relationship between what we see as our human rights to privacy and the connected nature of social life in contemporary digital culture. The aim of this chapter is to frame the problem of privacy and autonomy in digital culture, not as a legal or technical problem but as a problem of ethics related to presence – in this case the ethics of an absent presence resulting from the abstraction of information generated from persons. Thus, in the first section, I argue that the notion of abstraction is at the heart of issues around privacy and autonomy in digital culture. I am going to suggest that contemporary digital culture consists of five modes of abstraction: informatization, commodification, depersonalization, decontextualization and dematerialisation. I argue that personal information when treated as abstract ‘data’ can be easily divorced from the person and therefore from ethical obligations associated with personhood, effectively allowing the removal of such information from the social sphere of ethics and morals, making it ethically ‘weightless’. In the second section, I argue that to address the problem of privacy more productively it is worthwhile considering not only what privacy is and what rights humans have to a private life but also what it actually means to be ‘human’ in an era of digital communications and networked environments. It is important to understand how being-in-the-world now necessarily involves the spreading of our presence into a myriad of places and how the increasing virtualization of social life has extracted (and abstracted) our presence and our very being into bits of data which are inevitably free-floating: both beyond our control or even our awareness. As a result, the second section will examine what it is to be a ‘self’ in online culture through Rotman’s (2008) concept of the parallel or quantum self, as well as Stiegler’s (1998) concept of exteriorization. I conclude by suggesting that new consideration needs to be given towards digital or immaterial components of self (i.e. personal data) as matter of being or part of the self, not as ‘representational of’ or ‘information about’ persons. Such a shift in thinking is necessary to give personal data ‘ethical weight’ and thus maintain any prospect of privacy and autonomy.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Presence, privacy, big data, ethics, abstraction, digital culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Vince Miller
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2019 16:45 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 00:10 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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