Platform socialisation and the possibility of freedom

I wrote in yesterday’s post about being an ‘efficacious agent‘. Dewey has a much better term for this: freedom. The freedom which comes from the “power to frame purposes, to judge wisely, to evaluate desires by the consequences which will result from acting upon them; power to select and order means to carry chosen ends into operation” (pg 64). It is only through such power that we have the freedom to act on our ends, rather than being driven by the end of others. As he goes on to write on pg 67 of Experience and Education:

IT IS, then, a sound instinct which identifies freedom with power to frame purposes and to execute or carry into effect purposes so framed. Such freedom is in turn identical with self-control; for the formation of purposes and the organization of means to execute them are the work of intelligence. Plato once defined a slave as the person who executes the purposes of another, and, as has just been said, a person is also a slave who is enslaved to his own blind desires. There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.

The development of this power requires engagement with objective circumstances because, as he puts it on pg 68, “impulse and desire produce consequences not by themselves alone but through their interaction or cooperation with surrounding conditions”. In this sense means are resolutely objective and the capacity to work with them is utterly necessary if we are to have any hope of turning our impulses into successful actions within the world. This entails recognising the “significance of what we see, hear, and touch” (pg 68) because this is how learn about the world’s capacity to frustrate or facilitate our projects, as we learn about its nature through our experience of operating with and against it. In this sense he sees the formation of purposes as involving observation of conditions, knowledge of those conditions derived from past experience and judgement concerning how they might influence our present projects. This is how “An idea then becomes a plan in and for an activity to be carried out” (pg 68). How do social platforms influence this process? The obvious way to think about it is to break down the elements introduced at the start:

  • Framing purposes
  • Judging wisely
  • Evaluating desires by the consequences which will result from acting upon them
  • Power to select and order means to carry chosen ends into operation

To talk of ‘platform socialisation’ doesn’t suggest some radically new environment in which these actions are undertaken but rather new influences upon them, which co-exist and interact with familiar social influences. For example the value economy of social media, with its categories of ‘likes’, ‘friends’, ‘follower’ counts etc, as well as the platform-mediated interactions through which they are encountered. The operations of these categories are far from deterministic because they are only categories, what’s more significant are the interactions through which they operate, as well as how these reinforce or disrupt the interactions taking place which aren’t mediated by the platform.

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