Deconstructing – And Reconstructing – The Digital Self

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

Analog seminar, English/Deutsch, 2 SWS, 2 ECTS
Fridays, 14-18 h, 8 dates: 22.10., 3.12., 10.12. (14-16 h), 17.12.2021, 14.1., 28.1., 11.2., 18.2.2021 plus extra dates to discuss with the students.
Hardenbergstr. 33, room 004

Last places left - please register here until 2.12.2021: (Attention: limited places!)
Password: Digital

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.

The seminar works with a large variety of different documents, reports and media resources – including articles from New York Times, Ars Technica, The Guardian, The Intercept, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Wired, Deutsche Welle, Pro Publica; blog posts and opinion pieces from Center for Humane Technology, Bruce Schneier, Krebs on Security; Wikipedia entries; XKCD, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic strips; as well as government reports.

Fundamental readings & media resources:
"The Age of Surveillance Capitalism" (book excerpts, research from Shoshana Zuboff)
"Permanent Record" (book excerpts, autobiography from Edward Snowden)
"Neuromancer" (book excerpts, fiction)
"We Thought We Were Searching Google, But Google Was Searching Us" (video, Shoshana Zuboff interview)
"The Facebook Dilemma" (video, PBS documentary series)
"The Program" (video, Laura Poitras short documentary for NYTimes)
"Nothing To Hide" (video, documentary film)
"Why Privacy Matters" (video, talk by journalist Glenn Greenwald)
"What Your Smart Devices Know (And Share) About You" (video, talk by journalists Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu)
"Listening Back" Demo (video, artist Jasmine Guffond presenting the sonification of browser cookies)
"The Hidden Life of an Amazon User"/"The Dating Brokers" (mixed-media websites, artist Joanna Moll/Tactical Tech)

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 currently works as project and community manager for KDE e.V. in the "Blauer Engel for Free and Open Source Software" project. He 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. Since 2013 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).