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Julie E. Cohen

For several hundred years, political philosophers and legal theorists have conceptualized media technologies as ‘technologies of freedom’.  Some things about that equation have not changed; certainly, access to information, the capacity for reason, self-determination, and democratic self-government are inescapably interrelated. In other respects, however, the operation of contemporary platform-based media infrastructures has begun to mimic the operation of the collection of brain structures that mid-twentieth-century neurologists christened the limbic system and that play vital roles in a number of precognitive functions, including emotion, motivation, and habit-formation. Today’s networked information flows are gradually being optimized for subconscious, affective appeal, and those choices have proved powerful in ways their designers likely did not intend or expect.