Rafael Capurro


Introduction to the keynote "Citizenship in the Digital Age" at the Information Ethics Roundtable 2014: organized by the School of Library & Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Alberta), April 24-26, 2014. In: Toni Samek and Lynette Schultz (eds.): Information Ethics and Global Citizenship. Jefferson NC: McFarland  (forthcoming).
See the review by
Geoffrey Rockwell. See also the papers published in the Journal of Information Ethics (Spring 2016).


Who are we as citizens in the digital age? This question concerns what is being called netizens or digital citizens, i.e., persons involved in all kinds of activities utilizing the internet, particularly social media, for private or public purposes. But what does citizenship in this context mean? Who is addressed when we (who?) ask this question? Is it the citizen of democratic states? The concept of citizenship has changed throughout the ages but it seems to be intrinsically related to the physical world. What is the difference between being a citizen in the physical world and in the cyberworld? Cyberworld means “an (electromagnetic) medium for the movement of digital beings (bit-strings) in which we human beings participate and through which we also steer, either directly, or indirectly through automatically executable digital code." (Eldred 2012) 

    It is not just a technical medium – and as such it belongs also to the physical world – but as far as we are related to it, it is a way of our being-in-the-world, i.e. it is an existential phenomenon concerning who and not only what we are as human beings. This brave new cyberworld includes phenomena such as social media, hacktivism, cybersex, online gaming, Bitcoin finance, Ebay, Skyping etc.   A new civilization emerges that needs a fresh intercultural dialogue that should not be steered, as the word cyber suggests, by old or new global players, but allowing more information and communication freedom and letting people to control themselves. This letting thinking free is at the core of a future intercultural information ethics that takes seriously the messages coming from others in a heteronomic digital environment. How far can we (who?) go beyond the institutional, legal and moral paradigms that steer our present physical world? It seems that we (who?) need a new kind of thinking for a future being-in-the-(digital)-world.

    The question: ‘Who are we as citizens in the digital age?’ addresses the following issues: firstly, ‘Who are we as citizens in the cyberworld? Secondly, is the concept of citizenship – which one? – translatable from the physical world to the cyberworld?  Are we as citizens of the cyberworld only concerned as far as we interact digitally within it with other human (and non-human?) agents? What is the relationship between citizenship in the physical world and in the cyberworld? Thirdly, what is the meaning of the concept of global citizenship or cosmopolitanism before and after the rise of the cyberworld?

    The aim of this paper is to answer these questions starting with a brief overview on Greek and Roman concepts of cosmopolitanism. The second part is devoted to the concept of world citizenship in Kant as an example of a modern concept of citizenship that still pervades our thinking and political reality particularly in Western countries. The last part deals with the global citizenship in the digital age.

Last update: August 13, 2016


Copyright © 2016 by Rafael Capurro, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author..

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