Deconstructing – And Reconstructing – The Digital Self

Dr. Joseph P. De Veaugh-Geiss
Deconstructing – And Reconstructing – The Digital Self

Online block seminar, English/Deutsch, 2 SWS, 2 ECTS
Saturday, 16.1.2021, Saturday/Sunday, 23./24.1.2021, Saturday, 30.1.2021, each 10-18 h,
mixture of video sessions and self-/group-work: please keep the entire time slot free for the seminar.

The word self can be defined as "consciousness of one's own identity". In the internet age, one's digital self often remains an abstract and unconscious aspect of life. The goal of this course is to make the unconscious conscious – to critically deconstruct the digital self with the goal of reconstructing it as one wants.

The course will be a combination of seminars and hands-on activities. Active participation, which includes self observation, reflection, and expression, is required. In the seminars, I will present technical (e.g., what is data/metadata, where is it stored, how is it used) and non-technical (e.g., what stories can data tell, how can this data be used to influence or manipulate users) perspectives on the digital self. With a better understanding of the digital self as a concept, students will then reflect on their own digital identity in a concrete way: What data comprises their digital self? Where does this self exist and who owns or has access to it? How does the digital self influence the analog self? There will not be a correct answer to any of these questions, and students’ responses will reflect her/his own individual circumstances.

The seminars will conclude with activities to assert control over one’s digital self. Students will be the drivers of this hands-on component, with guidance from the instructor. Activities may include obtaining data about the digital self, or migrating the digital self to services/devices that reflect the personal values of the analog self, among many others.

Requirements for the ungraded Studium Generale credits: For course credits, students will carry out one or more practical activities outside of the classroom. This may include setting up end-to-end encryption, formally requesting data from companies according to GDPR regulations, installing a free software alternative on their digital device, migrating their data to a self-hosted service, or an approved activity of their own design.

Joseph P. De Veaugh-Geiss completed his PhD in linguistics in February 2020 at the Universität Potsdam, Germany, where his research interests were focused on experimental and theoretical approaches to semantics and pragmatics. For the past seven years he has also been involved in various organizations in Berlin seeking to empower people in the new digital society, including Slow Tech Berlin (STB), Berlin FreedomBox User Group (BeFUG), CryptoParty Berlin, Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), and Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung (FIfF).