Free Will - the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion.
Free Will is a topic that has long been discussed in psychology with many people arguing that is doesn't exist. Sam Harris wrote that “Free will is an illusion” in his book Free Will . The Dutch physician and neurobiologist Dick Swaab argues that "the way in which our brains have developed means that there can be no such thing as complete free will."
I went to a talk last night on The Psychology of Free Will by Dr Julian Baggini. He highlighted how those who deny we have free will are starting with a misguided and unrealistic idea of what it is. Only by understanding what it really means to be free, can we make the most of our choices. Dick Swaab is right, there may be no such thing as "complete free will", but by the end his talk JB presented that we should be looking at it more relatively and rather as a "spectrum of free will". Crucial to this spectrum is the consideration of the power of our subconscious. Did we buy the bananas because we genuinely wanted them and we made that choice with our free will? Or because we had previously passed a vivid yellow and blue advert for Chiquita's finest?
How does this then infiltrate itself in our social life (or social media life)? We know that Facebook can predict users’ race, sexual orientation, relationship status and even drug use on the basis of their “likes”. The source of Facebook’s power is in its algorithms. Through these algorithms [they believe] they have unlocked social psychology and acquired a deeper understanding of their users than we possess of ourselves. Facebook have recently bragged about how they increased voter turnout by subtly amping up the social pressures that compel virtuous behaviour.
Are these algorithms eroding our free will, pushing us further down the spectrum by controlling our subconscious? I'm sure Facebook wouldn't want us to feel that way, or at least be aware of it. In his novel 1984, George Orwell wrote “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” But now I can't help but wonder if two plus two actually make five?
Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait. In reality, Facebook is a tangle of rules and procedures for sorting information, rules devised by the corporation for the ultimate benefit of the corporation. Facebook is always surveilling users, always auditing them, using them as lab rats in its behavioural experiments. While it creates the impression that it offers choice, in truth Facebook paternalistically nudges users in the direction it deems best for them, which also happens to be the direction that gets them thoroughly addicted. It’s a phoniness that is most obvious in the compressed, historic career of Facebook’s mastermind.