CDCS Annual Lecture 2022

Image of Nanjala Nyabola Speaking

On 14th December 2022 we were delighted to host our annual lecture. Every year we invite a speaker whose work inspires us to address our community and join us for a festive celebration. It was great to be able to gather in person again and wonderful to see so many new and familiar faces. This year were joined by political analyst, writer, and activist Nanjala Nyabola. Her timely talk ‘Which Way to the Quickest Exit? Lessons from the Global South on Restoring the Possibilities of the Internet’ explored the importance of viewing technology through the critical lenses of de-colonial thought.

Nanjala opened by highlighting the disorientating nature of being surrounded by a language you do not understand, and asked us to consider which communities are excluded and deprioritised in relation to an internet dominated by the English language. Throughout the lecture, she invited us to experience this disorientation through regularly switching to Kiswahilki and asking us to agree or disagree with her reflections using a call and response pattern: in this way we were asked to reflect on not only language, but cultural difference and the assumptions embedded in our forms of communication.

Having set the tone, Nanjala then began to explore the mechanics, culture and politics or social media both online and offline. From the influence sites like Facebook have on social and political events to the exploitative nature of the role of content moderator she showed how far reaching and complex questions of morality and humanity entwine with our day to day use of platforms, and asked us to reflect on the harms caused to many, particularly in the Global South. At the heart of her lecture was a reminder that platforms are not neutral or free ‘services’, but products of capitalism, designed primarily to generate wealth for the few.  Users are not customers, they are simply providers of data, with little control over what data is collected or the purposes to which it is put.

An engaged and thoughtful discussion followed, with some insightful questions made by both those in attendance and those joining us virtually. We spoke of disrupting business models, the potential of collaborative models, regulation, reparations, and the morality of accepting grants and funding. After a long Q&A we ended on a hopeful note, and it was lovely to chat to everyone and continue to exchange thoughts over mince pies and prosecco.

Thank you to Nanjala and all those who attended!