Symposium 2017 ‘OFF LINE’

Introduction

OFF LINE: Are you still connected?

Laptops, tablets, smartphones: In only a few seconds, we can be in contact with anybody, anywhere. Because of this global connection we are able to hear everything and, in turn, express our opinions publicly, at all times. Despite this worldwide connection, societies seem to fall apart into separate clusters, that distinguish themselves with ‘indisputable’ stances. Due to our dogmatism, we increasingly polarise and lose each other. Though more directly connected than ever, we paradoxically seem to lose contact more often. Are we, as a people, OFFLINE?

Every day, we are confronted with opposites. Socio-economic imbalance, unequal chances, and a strong political division. Catalysed by polarising press and extremist populism, we’re forced into different groups where only one truth prevails; nationalists versus globalists, believers opposite atheists, ethnic collisions or, simply, a Big Mac – Whopper dispute. We are expected to choose: A or B. Concessions no longer seem to be part of the options. Rightwing articles on media outlets such as Breitbart encourage distrust and nationalistic sentiments, while the New Yorker and the Atlantic renounce their objectivity by, quite transparently, choosing a side. While one side demands less immigrants, the other side labels people who fear the loss of their job as racists. The fiercer the opposition, the more radically we segregate and the deeper we sink into our own bubble where only our own truth resounds, our side of the story.

In our bubble, we scour the internet but our craving for information pushes us into the funnel of our own algorithm, virtual codes that store all our information after each click, like or swipe. Based on the gathered data, we are served with ever ‘new’, similar information. Thus, we ultimately only read what we already believed and increasingly isolate ourselves in parelel virtual worlds, separated by ‘connection’. Parties that control these algorithms have access to an extensive data package. Who we are, what we do, whom we love and on what we spend our money. Such labeling of people offers the companies and politicians, to whom this information is accessible, enormous advantages.

Aren’t we, by retracting into our own bubble, losing connection completely? Are we, from our isolation, even able to fathom someone else’s actuality? Is there still a widely supported conviction based on a shared actuality at all? Is the liberal democracy, as we know it, resistant to such a disintegration? Are we still capable of actually connecting with each other or would we rather stay connected in isolation?

This year, the VeerStichting wants to look beyond the comfort zone of the personal bubble together with you. During the symposium we don’t want to log in, but enter into conversation with real people. People we may not know, with whom we might disagree. We want to speak with you; are you still connected?