Presentation on learned helplessness fueled by BigTech


I’ll be supporting and presenting at the JavaScript devroom at FOSDEM on Sunday but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the BigTech, in particular surveillance capitalism, sponsorship of all events I attended to (FOSDEM, RightsCon, Mozilla teach speakers, etc) so I admit I’m quite curious about OFFDEM. I thought, maybe naively, the best way to learn about it and thus the risks of this kind of sponsorship would be to engage with the group, hence the proposal.

what you have in mind, : explaining the psychological aspect rather than the tech. I imagine most of us know about smalltech, self-hosting, etc and are excited by it. I personally was less aware of how I felt about it, about the immense pressure I felt on a daily basis by the guilt of still using some tools from A̶͈͋l̸̮̔p̵̱̅h̷̲̊à̶̻b̸̰͊o̶̫͊t̸̰̔, M̷̮̅à̶̤t̶͚͐â̴̯, etc. I believe I postponed leaving them for a while because I believed, wrongly, that it was just “impossible”. That fake impossibility is precisely what I want to highly and suggest as a way to help each other.

the people or groups you will engage, and : people who are still using some tools from BigTech and feel bad about it but somehow can’t precisely pinpoint why. People who wish they could move away from that gigantic surveillance and manipulation system yet did not dare yet.

your needs : a heated room, optionally a video projector, white/black board and WiFi.

It’s a presentation or workshop I would also later on propose to RightsCon 2023 in June so it would be very useful to get input beyond my limited viewpoint on the topic.

hi @Iterative_exploratio

sorry for my sharp previous response I hadn’t seen this post. I know understand your interest better,

Indeed this is great

As explained we take position to not discuss big-tech at OFFDEM because we are very small and we need the space to discuss non big-tech stuff.
Would you be interested in participating to this conversation.
(English below)

No worries, that’s why I ask. And yes as I read “In short, the feeling of powerlessness in the face of the domination of surveillance capitalism is approached differently according to the level of knowledge of digital tools, but it remains omnipresent, nevertheless the political stakes or the ways of fighting are not discussed transversally.” it does seem quite aligned.

I’ll read through and reply there.

That being said what is still unclear to me, and comparing with what I already know namely FOSDEM (sorry) what are you looking for for e.g Saturday? Talks? Workshops? Roundtable? If so of what durations?

I’m asking in terms of formats to better understand what would be the outcome of discussing on the forum first versus e.g preparing a text, slides or videos beforehand.

Thanks for clarifying.

In terms of format we would like to avoid people presenting slides and favor unconference and conversation models. We will clarify the program once we will have a better view on who is commiting and for what, but we will keep the program light and give time to the conversation to happen probably no more than 3 tracks per day + a few separate rooms for workshops and meeting.

Therefore preparing on the forum is ideal and necessary, the text I have written might be a little to long and attuned to petites singularités experience from this year, although feel free to respond to it.
If you feel to propose a structure (maybe different) for the conversation that would be great, and I would be glad to try to engage the groups mentioned in my post (VNPS or les desrtheureuses) if it makes any sense to you.

Will do, the feeling or rather being able to put a label on it “learned helplness” is still new to me (I’m a prototypist, not a psychologist) so in addition to unpack what OFFDEM is, what it stands for, I’ll also have to think through what a productive discussion about the topic could be. I’ll come back in few days with clearer thoughts.

In the spirit of avoiding slides and to insure I don’t create misunderstanding due to vocabulary and my own bubbles, here are some questions I would ask. If you have some answers please do share already.

  • have you felt helpless in front of a shop were the only items to buy were powered by BigTech?
  • have you felt helpless during discussion on which software to use because the most popular options were fueled by BigTech?
  • have you felt helpless being coerced from others, e.g friends, colleagues, administration, to collaborate relying on technologies, software or hardware, powered by BigTech?
  • did you notice any form of communication (advertising, sponsoring, presentation during events, etc) that implied that there was basically no other viable solution but BigTech? If so what positive values did they try to advocate for (e.g reliability, security, ease of use)?
  • did any or both how them happened multiple times? regularly? frequently?
  • have you noticed then how you felt? Were you able to name that feeling (helplessness, sadness, anger, etc)? Were you able to step back and address that, possibly negative, feeling? If so how?
  • do you believe that others experienced this kind of feeling before? Did you ever talk about it with others? Did anybody else mention that to you?
  • do you believe that BigTech is actively, through communication, acquisitions, techniques (e.g lock-in or bundling) making consumers as helpless as possible?
  • do you believe this is specific to BigTech or is it the same in other fields?
  • did you ever experienced a feeling of complete inability to act, learned helplessness, and thus coerced or trapped into using solutions that were against your values? if you did, did you find any mechanism to cope? if so, is that mechanism something repeatable? did the situation improve over time for you?

Voila, this isn’t perfectly structured but I hope give a bit of perspective of the type of questions I’m interested in. The very last one is arguably the most important, namely, if you do feel trap and managed to get in, how, because it is the most positive one. Yet, IMHO the previous questions are important to insure we are talking about the same problem and, if it truly is a problem, helps people who might not yet have noticed it put a name on it then hopefully solve it, or part of it, together.

Direct answers very welcomed and feedback on the questions and process also appreciated.

Stumbled upon Mental Liberation Front Manifesto as it talks about “psychological servitude” or " mental slavery" and “strive to use my smartphone with a little more discretion and thoughtfulness”. It’s very short, just 2 paragraphs, but I like the psychological aspect to it. Yes it is technology but one end we can’t keep on talking about how the computer is like “a bicycle for the mind” and yet constantly rely on closed-source tools to navigate through wall-gardens yet expect to think freely. This does have consequences, psychological, emotional and even political consequences.

If I find other such examples I’ll try to share them back here.


Interesting point on a struggle we all went and sometimes still go through degoogle burnout : degoogle