The Digitalization of Social Interaction

It’s time to admit it. The world has begun the shift to a digital space. Most of our business is carried out using either laptops or cell phones. And for the most part youth are the ones carrying out most of this business.

There is obviously an exciting conversation occurring nonstop in this new space. The Internet provides constant connectivity and a space where youth can establish their identity.

 

However, I can’t help but get an uneasy feeling when I read about the shift of social interaction to digital spaces. I fear that many people will be left behind and that something truly magnificent could be lost in the process of this paradigm shift.

 

While one of our readings specifically noted that the rise of cell phone use in adolescents has created a subculture, unifying teens and preteens across cultures, the reading also mentioned this:

 “The cell phone becomes an agent of social change in the hands of active and economically and politically influential youths.”  ~Abu Sadat Nurullah

What if you don’t have access to the conversation occurring across cultures, either because of a non-existent infrastructure or because you personally can not afford it? What if you end up searching for signals like the men in the featured photo? What if you don’t have enough influence to even have a voice in this discussion?

What if initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field, like One Laptop Per Child, continue to fail children and parents in nations with lower access to this digital space?

 

We are all losing something in this mad dash to be a part of this digital conversation. The pervasive use of cell phones – and the constant contact with the Internet that it provides – has not only affected language but has also affected our attention spans. Our hyper-connectivity with each other in digital spaces could be hurting our social interaction in the physical world. And our immersion in and reliance on this digital space could be damaging this world.

In 2002, a conservationist in the UK did a study to examine how well school-age children know their natural environment compared to how well they know Pokemon. On average the 8 year olds studied could identify approximately 50 percent or less of common species found in nature. But the average for Pokemon identification was over 80 percent. Although it is a dated study it proves a strong point: youth are becoming more and more isolated from nature.

Additionally, our planet might not be able to support our incessant need for this digital space. Rare earth elements are required to build our appliances. But they’re also necessary for building the infrastructure for nonrenewable energy. And there’s a limited supply.

 

I don’t have the answers to all of these questions. And honestly, no one is going to get out of this alone. Ironically, we have to use this new digital space to change the conversation to foster a place where everyone is given an equal opportunity.

Media Ethics from Both Sides

 

The readings that we covered for homework this week concerned ethics in media both as producers of content (Bivins Moral Claimants) and as consumers of content (ESS Digital Ethics).

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Worded less intimidatingly, what duty do creators in media industries have to their readers/listeners/viewers and what duty do the consumers have to the producers in the industry? 

 

Ethics for Media Producers

The first reading on Moral Claimants specifically discussed the obligations that journalists and PR consultants have to constituent groups. The reading argued that both groups have certain duties to uphold to a variety of groups that are involved in the process of making media.

 

The duties are:

  • duty of fidelity
  • duty of reparation
  • duty of gratitude
  • duty of justice
  • duty of beneficence 
  • duty of non-injury

 

These duties encapsulate everything from doing the best PR possible for a client to printing or broadcasting a news story without publishing a source’s name in order to protect their anonymity.

In some cases certain duties transcend other obligations. For example, a newspaper might have a larger obligation to print unpopular news than to support the financial investments of contributing shareholders. And sometimes the higher moral obligation isn’t the easier choice.

 

Ethics for Media Consumers

The ESS reading on Digital Ethics addressed intellectual property and copyright laws. The reading began its discussion by equating CD theft to downloading music illegally online.

Very few people would steal a CD from a music store; a large majority of people have no qualms about downloading music.  It’s a bit of a tired comparison but it still illustrates one point very well. 

 

Content has an entirely different format, and therefore different meaning online. The ownership of content is more obscure and therefore more of an ethical dilemma in the virtual space provided by the Internet.

 

 

The ethics of enjoying media and the moral obligations to consumers to produce good media are constantly changing in the digital landscape.