Opinion Piece – by Suraya Hamdulay

2021 has kicked-off with a few strange events, leaving us wondering whether the year ahead is going to get worse before it gets better. Being an eternal optimist, I believe that we have to cling to hope, or it is the one thing that will keep us anchored as a collective and take us all over the finish line intact.

I have been observing with much curiosity the conversations on social media and other platforms about WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. World-wide, people rightly seem concerned about the changes to the privacy of their information and their overall privacy generally. In the case of WhatsApp, at least the platform was encrypted, leaving most people feeling secure about the privacy of their communicated information.

The question for me though is a much deeper one and goes beyond the issue of privacy and encryption of data. I believe that we should not concern ourselves much with individual tech platforms, but rather with what we have signed up for anyway once we acknowledge that we live in a highly digitized world where we are all hyperconnected. I do not believe that it will be easy to simply single out which platforms/Apps we can opt in and out off. Over time, the world has become digitized and our entire lives have been surreptitiously invaded by technology which has the capability and has been collecting information about individual users over time. I read something funny the other day saying we should not worry about WhatsApp spying on us because our vacuum cleaners have been collecting dirt on us for many years- there is some truth in that.  

If we agree that we cannot reverse the technological interventions that have changed the way we live, work and play we must accept that our information will be collected across hundreds if not thousands of user touchpoints and that this information will be used to build profiles about who we are, what we do, what we like and where we spend our money. This predictive analysis capability is the backbone of all future selling of both goods and services and is premised on the belief that we as individuals are never good enough, we will never have enough stuff and we will always be chasing the next best thing in our pursuit of happiness. As the world becomes increasingly prescriptive in respect of its definition of success and happiness the challenge for us as individuals is to figure out a way to make technology work for us and not against us whilst understanding and redefining ourselves. By this I mean a deliberate journey of introspection and reflection to define and determine who we are as individuals, how to cultivate the defining aspects of our personality and character that make us unique and to embrace and celebrate our uniqueness in every way. At the same time however, we must be selective about the technological tools and platforms we use to enable us to thrive and succeed as individuals in a highly digitized world.

I have personally embarked on a journey that seeks to go inward whilst trying to cope in a world which is becoming increasingly volatile, unpredictable, chaotic and uncertain. The only way for me to remain grounded and not be impacted by the things I cannot control in the outside world is for me to cultivate my own sense of inner balance and peace. In having clarity on who I am and how I would like to live my life I have found my purpose and aligned it to my authentic self. As a result, I have been able to take control of the technology I invite into my life and I ensure that it is only technology that best serves my higher purpose.  

My sense is that the more we are grounded as individuals the less likely we are to be swayed by companies using our information to manipulate our decisions to predict who we are and what we like and to control the decisions we make about how best to live our lives. The mainstream media, advertisers and social media have increasingly played on our insecurities and fears of inadequacy to help drive hyper-consumerism. However, once we take the journey inward and define for ourselves who we are and embrace our vulnerabilities as uniquely ours and work with what we have in terms of our individual capabilities we are able to take control of our lives and how we want to live it.  

The world is going to become more digitized to the point that we will not know the difference between human and robot, human intelligence and artificial intelligence, reality and augmented reality, organic food versus man made food and the only way we will be able to rise above the wave of new and increasingly intrusive technological interventions is to be certain about who we are as people. 

It is, therefore, a call to become more human as the world becomes more technological. Make no mistake, I am a huge proponent of how technology can be integrated into our lives to exponentially change the way we live. I am especially passionate about the possibilities of digital tech as an enabler to lift millions of people out of poverty, increase financial inclusion, educate the marginalized and rural communities and create new and exciting livelihood opportunities. I believe that technology can help rapidly build, create and innovate inclusively and equitably for the benefit of humanity as a whole.  

My advice to those overwhelmed and confused by privacy policies and T&C fine print is to make peace with where you are and how you live in a digital world and to equip yourself with more knowledge on matters of privacy, because it is important. More importantly though, define for yourself what it is to be human to ensure that you are not subsumed by technology. Accept that you will have to live with the unintended consequences of technological advancement.

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