Economic, political and ecological activities of modern societies rely
heavily on digital communication networks.
digital ICT on the economy became obvious
with the burst of the 2000 dot com bubble and, in my opinion, was one
main factors leading to the recent world financial and economic crisis.
the moral individual responsibility of politicians, bankers and
is a systemic issue that has to do with the digitalization of financial
communication and information. Digital capitalism was and is still able
bypass national and international law, control and monitoring
mechanisms as well as codes of practice and good governance leading to
crisis of trust not only within the system but with regard to the
policy and economic experts agree that in order to develop a
people-oriented and sustainable world economic system, national and
monitoring agencies as well as international law and self-binding rules
needed. Academic research in digital
ethics should become a core mandatory issue of economics and business
to the already well established bioethics committees, ethical issues of
be addressed taking as a model for instance the European
Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to the European
Commission (EGE; Capurro 2004).
has a deep
impact on politics leading to a
transformation of 20th century broadcast mass media based
or mediocracy, on the basis of new
kinds of digital-mediated interactive participation. New
interactive media weaken the hierarchical one-to-many structure of
global mass-media, giving individuals, groups, and whole societies the
to become senders and not “just” receivers of messages.
live in message societies. I call the science
dealing with messages and messengers angeletics
(from Greek: angelía / angelos = message
/ messenger) (Capurro 2003). New
ICTs are widely used for political participation
and grass-roots protest groups as well as by liberation and peace
the same token, digital communication networks make possible new
structures of political
surveillance, censorship and control on individuals and whole
Digital ethics should address the question of the human right to
Internet has become a local and global basic social communication
infrastructure. Freedom of access should be considered a fundamental
principle similar to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Some
rights stated in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights such as the right to freedom of
conscience and religion (Art. 18), the right to freedom of opinion and
(Art. 19), and the right to peaceful assembly and association (Art. 20)
be explicitly interpreted and defined taking the new and unique
internetworked digital media into consideration. Lawrence Lessig (1999)
envisaged a situation in which the universality of Cyberspace is
endangered by local
codes of the market, the software industry, the laws of nation states,
moral traditions. He writes:
do nothing, the code of cyberspace will change. The invisible hand will
in a predictable way. To do nothing is to embrace at least that. It is
accept the changes that this change in code will bring about. It is to
cyberspace that is less free, or differently free, than the space it
before.” (Lessig 1999, 109)
Internet can foster peace and democracy but it can also be used for
manipulation and control. For this reason I assess a necessity to
strive for a
future internet governance regime on the basis of intercultural
democratic values and human rights (Senges and Horner 2009).
third issue I
would like to highlight concerns the impact of the materialities
of ICT on nature and natural resources. Electronic
waste has become major issue of digital ethics (IRIE 2009). It deals
disposal and recycling of all kinds of ICT devices that already today
devastating consequences on humans and the environment particularly
exported to Third World countries.
Issues of sustainability
and global justice should be urgently addressed together with the
offered by the same media to promote better shelter, less hunger and
diseases. In other words, I advocate for the expansion of the human
discourse to include the rights of non-human life and nature. The
crisis is a clear sign that we have to change our lives in order to
become not masters
but stewards of natural environment.
The main topics of
digital media ethics or digital (information) ethics are intellectual
privacy, security, information overload, digital divide, gender
and censorship (Ess, 2009; Himma and Tavani 2008). They are objects of
scrutiny not only on the basis of universal rights and principles but
regard to cultural differences as well as to historical and
singularities leading to different kinds of theoretical foundations and
practical options. This field of ethics research is now being called
information ethics (Capurro 2008; Hongladarom and Ess 2007; Capurro
important challenge in this regard is the question about how human
flourish in a global digital environment while avoiding uniformity or
Research networks on Information Ethics are flourishing in Africa
Network for Information Ethics: ANIE) and Latin
(RELEI: Red Latinoamericana de Ética de la Información).
example of the
relevance of the intercultural approach in digital media ethics is the
discussion on the concept of privacy from a Western vs. a Buddhist
While in Western cultures privacy is closely related to the self having
intrinsic value, Buddhism relies on the tenet of non-self and therefore
social perception as well as the concept of privacy are different
Tamura 2005; Capurro 2005). However, a justification of privacy from a
perspective based on the concept of compassion seems possible and
surveillance of public
spaces is supposed to ensure safety and security facing unintentional
intentional dangers for instance from criminal or terrorist attacks.
But at the
same time it threatens autonomy, anonymity and trust that build the
democratic societies. New technologies allowing the tracking of
through RFID or ICT implants are similarly ambiguous with regard to the
implicit dangers and benefits. Therefore they need special scrutiny and
monitoring (EGE 2005).
Recent advances in robotics show a wide range of
applications in everyday
lives beyond their industrial and military applications (ETHICBOTS
Robots are mirrors of ourselves. What concepts of sociality are
and instantiated by robotics? An intercultural ethical dialogue –
question of a code of ethics to become part of robots making out of
machines” (Wallach and Allen 2009) – on human-robot interaction is
still in its
infancy (Capurro and Nagenborg 2009).
Another example is the question of information
overload, which has a major impact in the everyday life of millions of
in information-rich societies (Capurro 2005b) giving rise to new kinds
diseases and challenging also medical practice (Capurro 2009). We lack
systematic pathology of information societies. Similarly the question
internet addiction particularly in young generations, is worrisome. For
there is a growing need for cell-phones-free times and places, in order
protect ourselves from the imperative of being permanently available.
ethical reflection on these issues belongs to a theory of the art of
some paths of thought by French philosopher Michel Foucault. He
the following kinds of technologies, namely:
of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate
of sign systems, which permit us to use signs, meanings, symbols, or
of power which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to
certain ends or domination, an objectivizing of the subject,"
of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or
with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own
bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to
transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness,
purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality." (Foucault 1988, 18)
can we ensure that the benefits of information
technology are not only distributed equitably, but that they can also
by the people to shape their own lives?
(Capurro 2005a; See also Capurro 1996; 1995; 1995a).
important issue of digital media ethics concerns the so-called
digital divide should not be considered just a problem of technical
the Internet but an issue of how people can better manage their lives
interactive digital media avoiding the dangers of cultural
homogenization, colonialism, and discrimination. Individuals
as societies must become aware of different kinds of assemblages
traditional and digital media according to their needs, interests and
backgrounds (Ong and Collier 2005). The
of an inclusive information society as developed during the WSIS must
and plural at the same time. Concepts like hybridization or polyphony
ethical markers that should be taken into account when envisaging new
possibilities of freedom and peace in a world shaped more and more by
on “Being Human: Human-computer interaction in the year 2020,” a result
meeting organized by Microsoft Research in 2007, the editors write:
technologies allow new forms of control or decentralisation,
forms of social interaction at the expense of others, and promoting
values while dismissing alternatives. For instance, the iPod can be
seen as a
device for urban indifference, the mobile phone as promoting addiction
social contact and the Web as subverting traditional forms of
media authority. Neural networks, recognition algorithms and
have cultural implications that need to be understood in the wider
beyond their technical capabilities. The bottom line is that computer
technologies are not neutral – they are laden with human, cultural and
values. These can be anticipated and designed for, or can emerge and
through use and abuse. In a multicultural world, too, we have to
that there will often be conflicting value systems, where design in one
the world becomes something quite different in another, and where the
and value of a technology are manifest in diverse ways. Future research
to address a broader richer concept of what it means to be human in the
the transformation taking place.” (Harper, Rodden, Rogers and Sellen
This remarkable quote from a
organized not by anti-tech humanists, but by one of the leading IT
the main present and future tasks of digital ethics as a critical
interdisciplinary and intercultural on-going reflection on the
of humanity through computer technology.
is experiencing itself particularly
through the digital medium as a totality or system of interrelations.
we and what do we want to be as humanity? This question asks for a
not a metaphysical answer. A negative vision of such unity are
and imperialisms of all kinds, including digital ones.
occasion of the presentation of “In your hands: A Guide for
Community Action for the Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration
Human Rights” on March 27, 1958 at the United Nations, Eleanor
after all, do universal human rights
begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they
be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the
person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he
factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where
woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity
discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have
anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to
shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." (Roosevelt
years later, we are much more aware on how important this declaration
how difficult it is to put into practice, to make human rights come
small places, close to home.” This Declaration was not only the right
and political answer to the atrocities of World War II but it was also
start for a new kind of international policy based on common ethical
principles facing the challenges of a digitally globalized world.
today we are facing additional global challenges expressed in the UN
Millennium goals, namely
extreme poverty and hunger
universal primary education
gender equality and empower women
HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
a global partnership for development
These goals begin “in small
places, close to home” too. They can be
achieved only if we continue and expand the freedom campaign towards
i.e., if we expand the goals of human
rights to nature as well. Digital globalization should make us aware of
human interplay with each other in a common world instead of making of
digital perspective over our lives and over reality a kind of digital
metaphysics or (political) ideology. I call this relativization of the
perspective digital ontology (Capurro
are we in the digital age? As
cultures become digitally hybridized this process affects social life
its dimensions as well as our interplay with nature. The key task of
ethics is to make us aware of the challenges and options for individual
social life design. The digital medium is an opportunity for the
the 21st century to transform themselves and their relations
with the world. This
implies allowing each
other to articulate ourselves in the digital network, while taking care
cultural and geographical singularities. An ethical intercultural
needed in order to understand and foster human cultural diversity.
must look for common ethical principles so that digital cultures can
genuine expression of human liberty and creativity.
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