Bonum Certa Men Certa

My Year as a Digital Vegan — Part I — 2021 in Review

By Dr. Andy Farnell

Series parts:

  1. YOU ARE HERE ☞ 2021 in Review


Small ducks



Summary: Dr. Andy Farnell shares his experiences from this past year; today we start with a short first part

For those wondering "What's it like to live as a Digital Vegan?", here's a quick review of my 2021, some of the pleasures and pains, wins and losses while taking a principled stand on digital technology.



My not-so-supermarket

2021 began with the minor annoyance of my local supermarket trampling on my privacy. They deployed face recognition in their stores and so convinced me to not shop there. I'd sometimes spend €£10 per week at Co-Op. A few friends joined me in a boycott. The company have not budged despite consumer backlash and concerns over the legality of their actions. Maybe you can help change their minds in 2022. People in the US may soon need a bio-metric shakedown to buy food, so if this isn't on your radar maybe take a closer look at where high-street shopping is headed. Papers please!



It made me think about the value of competition and diversity, and importance of small shops. I am lucky to live where there's a choice of 4 other main supermarkets, and dozens of independent stores. You're more vulnerable if you live in a rural area and your monopoly food-baron decides to go rogue. Supporting small shops, even if they cost much more is a long term investment, so when I can I buy more produce from the local butcher, greengrocer, bakery and hardware store. Commerce is about relationships, not just prices.



"It seems we need to develop a more mature model of public-private boundaries and "incidental harm" when, for example, a visitor is subjected to surveillance by "smart" TV or Siri type voice technology in your home."A friend of mine got locked into a miserable dispute over a shared driveway, and drawn into a technological arms race. Battles over camera doorbells got me thinking about the concepts of space and ownership. A hard dualism between private and public spaces seems to create some poor outcomes. The scourge of CCTV, alarm systems, Amazon Ring doorbells and other components of the Fear Machine is a growing problem.



It may be your shop or house, but your presence in my neighbourhood doesn't come without obligations. And the moment you invite me in, I essentially become a temporary stakeholder. Injurious man-traps protecting your drinks cabinet wouldn't be okay (you'd at least get sued if not subject to criminal prosecution). It seems we need to develop a more mature model of public-private boundaries and "incidental harm" when, for example, a visitor is subjected to surveillance by "smart" TV or Siri type voice technology in your home. Anyway, on the plus side, all of these ideas are feeding into some great chapters for my next book Ethics For Hackers.

Going back to school

I resumed face-to-face teaching in 2021. Earlier in the pandemic I wrote about the value of online teaching. It was a biased analysis, speaking for myself as a teacher without ever really asking my students for their side. Being less experienced they simply didn't know what they were missing until they came back into classes.



Many much-loved colleagues quit this summer. A university campus dominated by students with just a handful of lecturers feels strange - but somehow right, almost the antidote to Ben Ginsberg's "all administrative faculty". I fantasise that students might just figure out how to do their own degree-awarding and initiate an anarchist takeover of academia - the "all student university".



"Many much-loved colleagues quit this summer."The "great resignation" is an unknown factor. Is it really a thing? Are people just getting sick from Covid and too fatigued to bother any more? Or is it just changing age demographics mixed with a less mobile workforce? Or is it, as one colleague put to me, the productive classes "Going Galt" amidst final-stage surveillance capitalism with nothing left to extract? For my part, I'm really loving being back at real work, and the challenge to adapt and overcome (mostly piss-poor leadership) is pleasant.



I think we all just got burned out. But, crucially, technology misuse had a lot to do with that. It's not Covid itself, anti-vaxers, corrupt leadership, or the tide of doom (psychological warfare that's ground us down in this pandemic), it's the "pushers" - those for whom doom-scrolling, dehumanising isolation and forced intermediation is their cash cow.

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