My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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what do you fear to be wrong about most?

Late one night at Etech, Matt Webb asked a bunch of us what we would be most afraid to be wrong about. In other words, what are we most invested in and would have our realities shattered if we were wrong. This question blew me away and got me thinking.

After thinking for a while, i gave my answer: that freedom is not the answer. All of my work, all of the work of those around me is deeply invested in the belief that freedom brings happiness and all sorts of goodness. What if freedom causes more harm than good? What it freedom brings social misery? What if people are better off being controlled? If so, i would be at a complete loss.

So i then decided to turn the question around to others and i now want to turn it around to you. What are you most afraid to be wrong about?

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26 comments to what do you fear to be wrong about most?

  • First, I’m a little afraid that scholarship doesn’t matter. That, at the end of the day, there actually is a primal human drive to self-destruction and no intellectual pursuit, no spirital motivation, no faith in the goodness of others will make more habitable worlds.

    I heard yesterday a newscast that perked my ears up when the question was posed – suppose the social-politics and ethnic tensions in a land like Iraq can only be managed by a dictator? Suppose the only way that there can be peace in some places is for a despot to run the place. And it really got me wondering – suppose that, as you say, freedom or human rights or liberty are really a set-up that works sometimes, if at all?

  • 1) The MOST people are inherantly good when the crap hits the fan

    2) That collaborative cultures can only exist in cheesy Star Trek series

  • Abe

    that people as a whole don’t solve slightly more problems than they create…

  • I am most afraid that Malthus is right, and that one day in the not too distant future, all there will be of us is the radio waves of old TV shows, arcing over the universe until everything finally goes silent and cold.

  • I’m a christian. So, i guess the answer would be: that God didn’t exist. I’m not afraid, but I’ve based most of my life upon it.

  • 1. That citizens and legislators really do want to keep access to the internet simple, open and relatively cheap. And not let the telecoms tier it out.

    2. That we will discover and develop “alternative energies” to keep the power and transportant systems moving.

  • I’m with Nuno, with this added part: that the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen. “Fear” isn’t exactly the word. But as St. Paul said, if it didn’t really happen, “we are of all men most to be pitied.” And if God doesn’t exist, I’m not sure how a coherent system of ethics can be professed or maintained.

  • Mel

    That’s a very provocative and interesting question. I think my answer would be similar to yours although my concept of the problem around “freedom” would connect with *capital* and the free market. Namely, how free market economics is the basis for some of the worst offenses in our globalised economy – and classist social order – (for better and for worse – as there are benefits to certain aspects of globalisation. The problems concern the IMF and corporate freedoms to exploit workers with impunity). The issue I’m talking about really is the abuse of freedoms. For example, the Bush administrations use of their so-called wars to spy on its citizens. And freedom of speech that promotes violence or hatred. These are the limits and the traditional problems around democracy and liberal thought. As John Stuart Mill said, it is the moment that one person’s liberty becomes another’s oppression. This is the balancing act of democracy and freedom.

  • Mel

    That’s a very provocative and interesting question. I think my answer would be similar to yours although my concept of the problem around “freedom” would connect with *capital* and the free market. Namely, how free market economics is the basis for some of the worst offenses in our globalised economy – and classist social order – (for better and for worse – as there are benefits to certain aspects of globalisation. The problems concern the IMF and corporate freedoms to exploit workers with impunity). The issue I’m talking about really is the abuse of freedoms. For example, the Bush administrations use of their so-called wars to spy on its citizens. And freedom of speech that promotes violence or hatred. These are the limits and the traditional problems around democracy and liberal thought. As John Stuart Mill said, it is the moment that one person’s liberty becomes another’s oppression. This is the balancing act of democracy and freedom.

  • That peace doesn’t exist.

  • anonymoustoday

    danah, i’m a regular commentor who would like to be anonymous today. the thing i fear the most is being wrong about being disabled. What if I’m not actually disabled and it’s my mother’s abuse that made me the way that I am? Then what? Then what happens to the fact that everything I study is based on the principle of nothing about us without us? What happens to my insider positionality? What if I’m not an insider? What happens to my entire identity? And does that mean that I’m just lazy or a slacker? I’m pretty sure you’ll know who I am and that I’m not afraid about being out about anything. I’m afraid enough of this prospect that I wouldn’t post it with my name attached.

  • I’m with Nuno too. Everything in my life is affected by my relationship with Christ.

    Thanks for you Glocalization insights!

    And of course, freedom isn’t the answer. It’s only when I give up my rights and serve others, that I am truly happy.

  • Great question! After flip-flopping with several answers, I’ve currently settled on the belief that we humans have purpose for being.

    I know that we’ve all had some effect on many different people, and I just can’t imagine that there wasn’t some purpose involved. It’s depressing to think about… no purpose for being.

  • What an interesting question and comment string…as I look at the extension of broadband Internet and the rise of G/localized communities, I’m concerned about the pace of change. I’m afraid that the limits of cultural emergence – it takes a long time for this stuff to happen and for cultural change to work on those on the “lagging edge” (v. the leading edge) – I’m afraid that time constraint will provide enough room for incumbent commercial and political interests to impede the creative destruction driven by the Internet, maintain and expand control, change laws, and slow down the whole cultural change process even further.

  • That persistence fails.

  • Anonymous

    I am fear I am most wrong about:

    The idea that the world has not reached a point where the rooted norms and traditions that exist can be completely broken by revolution.

    I hope I am completely wrong that all that remains for hitory is reformation.

  • I stopped going to church in college; and even though I agonized over this decision for a time, I’m simply not afraid of being wrong anymore. The Baptist church of my youth was based on hope by good people that their way of life was sanctified, in comparison to others who were, they believed, damned to eternal hell.

    I’m not genuinely afraid that these convictions might in fact be correct; the entire situation conceived by fundamentalist Christianity is basically untenable, and I should just as well worry that fairies and elves are the secret rulers of the earth. I’m not afraid to be wrong about that.

    However, I do sometimes worry that technology will not outrun human nature, and that we will blow ourselves up before humanity can escape the planet. As I watch the rising tide of those who believe so fiercely in their God they will kill anyone who disagrees, and listen to the debates of those in this country who seek to legislate their own beliefs as mandatory for everyone, I do worry that time is running out. America is divided against itself, and scientific innovation is waning, except as it concerns military domination.

    Where is the peaceful space program that would allow us to build colonies on the moon? Forget that, we’ve got to worry about Iran right now. What about building a logical consensus to determine the progression of stem-cell research? No, let’s curtail research for the good of all so that the politics of a few will not be compromised. Should we teach real science more aggressively and competently to today’s youth? No, let’s introduce blatant misinformation into the science curriculum. But above all, let’s not call the existence of God into question. We can’t question their religious beliefs–even though the viewpoints of the scientist, the humanist, and the agnostic are derided in public each and every day.

    Depsite all that, I still have hope that rational people will come together and beat the odds, allowing humans to evolve off this planet and pollinate the solar system–but sometimes I worry.

  • kim

    I would be afraid that god is not forgiving and loving. If he/she/it does not exist, I most likely will not feel the loss. But if I am wrong about my belief that they are all embracing, it will be very frightening to find out otherwise.

  • My biggest fear is that making money solely for the purpose of accumulating more toys than others can, may be the sole purpose of life. However, I have never found this game compelling since I’m not particularly materialistic. But let’s face it, the people who are good at this one narrow pursuit control the other 99% of humanity and get all the glory and perks.

    I like to think that there’s something wrong with a society in which someone as shallow as The Donald becomes an icon, but I’m probably just out in left field on this whole issue.

    Good question.

  • My biggest fear is that I might not be able to help shape the future I foresee; that I will remain semi-productive and let others dictate the changes that surround me.

  • Anonymous

    I worry that i actually wrote what is listed under my name above not the comment i thought i wrote–the one above it. Since i dont go to college, dont live in the US and stopped going to church as soon as i could form a question

  • ..X..

    “High altitude” air for thought.

    Raising great issues and living alongside inconsistencies. Why bring old genetic hardware(extreme feelings/beliefs) into the mix? They can be abandoned(not, of course, vis a vis our social world).

    The question may then lose some of its punch.

    Feynman was wrong(“Bridges/useless”, etc.).

    Such a comment would seem to go against the very import and essence of your site: apophenia.

    Indeed, cultural sharing(with Russia) played a great role in keeping more base instincts(amist the means to actually follow their way..) subdued.

    Your answer of “Freedom not answer” is the hallmark of the “examined life”.

    Any response, for some, is unreal on this slippery globe of broke-light therefore the query is of no concern as one ought hold to no “foundational truth”; but, the real rub and nub may be that if one has no answer then: one really doesn’t add up to much.

  • Seoul

    I fear I’m wrong about myself. What if I’m not as independant as I say I am, what if I can’t manage it all by myself?

    I fear I’m wrong about how I picture life. What if it isn’t a battlefield where you have to grab your piece of the cake? What if it isn’t a perpetual fight for survival? What if it shows up to be something much more lame?

    I fear I’m wrong about the future, about the fact that tomorrow is not something to predict but rather something to create. What if my tomorrow was already a closed deal?

    But one thing I’m sure of is that I need this fear.

    I know that my ignorance is what keeps gowing, keeps me thriving. My naivete is the one thing that tells me to go forth.

    It is my anger towards the uncertainty that surrounds me, that enprisons me, it is that anger that makes forget, shout and run through life as strong as I can be

  • Kiwa

    I’m afraid of being wrong in classrooms giving wrong answers and seeming unintelligent. It just hinders me from being the best studentg i can be and i don’t know how to overcome it . Also, I’m afraid i might be wrong about the type of person i am what if i’m not as nice or outgoing as i think i am.

  • Carolyn

    For the last ten years I put off making the big changes in my life that I knew I needed to make. I’m afriad that if I try now I’ll find out it’s to late and I’ll be stuck like this forever.