• Wartakanlah Injil kepada segala makhluk.
    Mrk 16:15

  • 你们往普天下去, 向一切受造物宣传福音
    谷 16:15

  • Everything is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit’s Grace.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • Segala sesuatu menjadi mungkin dalam kekuatan karunia Roh Kudus.
    St. Arnold Janssen

  • 我当传教士不是为主牺牲,而是上主给我的最大恩赐
    圣福若瑟神父

  • Với sức mạnh Ân Huệ của Chúa Thánh Thần, Mọi việc đều có thể được.
    St Arnoldus Janssen

  • Preach the Gospel to the whole creation./Anh em hãy đi khắp tứ phương thiên hạ, loan báo Tin Mừng cho mọi loài thọ tạo
    Mk 16:15

  • There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit.
    1 Cor 12:4

  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
    Jn 1:14

  • Let the word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.
    Col 3:16

  • To proclaim the Good News is the first and greatest act of love of neighbour.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • 传扬天国福音是第一且最大的爱近人行动
    圣杨生•爱诺德神父

  • Có nhiều đặc sủng khác nhau, nhưng chỉ có một Thần Khí/
    1 Cor. 14:4

  • 圣言成了血肉,寄居在我们中间
    若 1:14

  • Ada rupa-rupa karunia, tetapi Roh satu
    1 Kor 12:4

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Thursday, 30 January 2020 18:17

Taking charge of our online life - a reflection

 

Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD 150By Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD

If you are like me and use the Internet and social media on a regular basis, sometimes we’re just amazed at how Google is so accurate at predicting what it is that we are trying to search for as we are in the process of typing the intended keywords. It’s like Google can read your mind! We’re also quite equally amazed at how the content that appears on our Facebook Newsfeed, even the advertisements seem to match quite well our interests and needs. We are also impressed at how Amazon manages to suggest books that we might like (and indeed would like) to read based on other books that we have read in the past.

Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or Amazon, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) based algorithms by these and other technology companies providing services that help us connect with people, provide us with news and entertainment, and bring to us various advertisements which are all personalised—based on the data that these algorithms collect and process from our use of their (usually) free services. No longer do we have to buy the whole newspaper just to read the sports section or buy an entire magazine just to read the cover story. We don’t even have to go to particular news websites to search for content that we might like when the news stories that appeal to our interests are often brought to us by our always-watching, always-listening, and always-processing algorithms.

Cyberspace Internet 450 ShutterstockFor many of us, this is a great service and it can be. No longer do we have to waste time scrolling through content that simply does not stir any interest in us. We have great suggestions about what to see for entertainment and what to buy to enhance our daily living. Some of us might feel a little bit uncomfortable that these technology companies are recording every itty bitty thing we do online in order to create a consumer profile of us; but we tell ourselves that these companies really have our best interest in mind or that there won’t be any real harm even if they do know very private things about us. As long as they don’t make that information public, what’s the harm done with some algorithm knowing a thing or two about us?

Unfortunately, all the free services that are catering to our particular interests and needs can indeed do great harm to us. Personalised content provided for us by impersonal algorithms can cater to our good and pure interests, but it can also pander to less honorable tendencies. Unlike being a good friend or a family member who has our well-being in mind and can advise us when we’re having too much of something, impersonal algorithms do not make that judgment. They are simply set to give us more of what we want to read and see. It might seem harmless if the content is video after video or photo after photo of cute pets. But what if the content is more and more materials advocating violence against people of other religions and ethnicities? What if the content is more and more materials preaching religious extremism or fundamentalism? What if the content is more and more materials calling for denial of climate change, investigations of outrageous conspiracy theories, or belittling people of religious faith?

There is convenience in algorithms that seem to understand us even more than we understand ourselves—at least that’s the aim. Nonetheless, it is important that each of us take charge of our own life and use technology as a means to enhance our lives rather than being subjected to the control of technology in what we read, watch, listen to and see. We must develop and maintain our “androrithm” to counter the powerful nudges and suggestions that algorithms are ever bringing to us.

How can we do this? We can diversify the types of information that we search for on Google. Let’s make our searches unpredictable to Google by reading about many different things concerning the world. Let’s resist the temptation to only see YouTube videos that appeal to us by intentionally searching out other videos on a variety of topics. Let us be aware when the content on our Newsfeed seems repetitive and limited in scope and do something to add variety to what is brought to us. Let us not always only click “like” on photos of the same people but purposely search out other people on our Friend list that may not have a chance to appear on our Wall. In effect, let us make a conscientious effort at controlling and directing our online life so that it is rich, interesting and a meaningful extension of our analog life. Content that comes to us may be personalised, but it does not mean it has to be narrow, predictable and, in the long term, be destructive to our physical and spiritual well-being.  

As we enter a new decade—a decade promised to experience an exponential increase in development and usage of information and communication technology—let us be prudent in leading our online life and conscientious in creating our digital footprint in cyberspace.

Image: Shutterstock.

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