Frames and Ethical Implications in a Digital Being World

This week, I was really into reading about “The Digital Being” as discussed in regards to the Being Frame.

I became engrossed in the idea of how ever-growing and expanding ranges of technologies “continue to sweep over culture and into our organizations” so much that as noted, practitioners and scholars must learn to understand and address the ethical implications (241).  One way, according to Digital Literacy this week, is to understand the ethical frames of technical relations.   And I could not help but think here about Mr. Clinton for some reason, denying any “relations” with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.   It is just where my mind unexpectedly wandered when I read the word relations.   I suppose in the context of living in a world where we now must consider our technical relations in addition to our personal relations, it does seem appropriate to connect to the idea of ethics and how this inevitably will always come back to any relationship we have.

One of the most powerful ideas, for me, was this about our digital being from Katz and Rhodes: “Digital being has enabled us to forget that our values, our thinking, and our work are heavily defined by our technology, and that much of our life now exists outside our flesh, essentially in digital bodies” (239).   Suddenly, just after reading this, I had a vision of my family, friends, and colleagues as these digital beings, and then I thought, how much of their real selves do I really know?  What ethical implications does this have on my relationships and the way we might treat each other?  Do their digital beings treat others differently than their flesh selves?   I basically sat with lots of questions on my mind, and I saw the world almost in a very Matrix-like fashion where I am not sure who the real person is when I meet someone compared to the digital person.

Another idea developed under this one is that the digital being has now taken over in a way that we are not as capable as people of the past, and our “digital machines have literally replaced our ‘mental storage’ of ‘information’…” (239), especially when it comes to the workplace and writing.  The specific example was how new employees struggle with writing and spelling because we are so programmed to use spell-check and grammar check systems that we no longer store the necessary information to become efficient writers.  I see this with students, also.  I also see it in math with the use of calculators.  I have a friend who teaches math prep courses, and she tells me often of students who do not know their multiplication tables without the use of a calculator (these are adult learners.)   And so now, I see that their digital being has learned these skills in a digital fashion, and when stripped of the technology tool, they are left lacking fundamental skills to survive in the work world and world in general.  Are we to expect that is okay because it is the way they have learned?   I find a little bit of an ethical struggle right here alone.  What is the responsibility of humans today in these contexts?

The other ethical frame I want to address briefly here is the Thought Frame and quickly tie it into the Digital Being.  The last questioning thoughts from the section on “Thought  Frame” really had me thinking about my organization: “Does your organization conceptualize or refer to communication as a transmission of information from sender to receiver? Does it regard emotional response in the workplace as noise in the system?” (237).    If we are very much defined by our digital beings in the workplace, and we communicate via email, videos,  webinars, podcasts, social media, and texting more than we do f2f, isn’t it much easier to become just a receiver in the system?   When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system?  When are we allowed to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being?  Is there a more appropriate time for one than the other?  I find that I am weighing heavily how technology has changed relations and ethics together on a very basic human level: how we see how our selves and how we then communicate with each other.

Posted on November 17, 2013, in Society, Teaching, Trust, Workplace and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system? ”

    Now, that’s a thought-provoking and scary question. Are we just causing blips in the digital energy field that surrounds us all?

    I think you captured some of the tension that’s been interwoven in a lot of our readings and discussion. Obviously technology has empowered us enormously, but it’s also been a significant challenge to our emotional, social selves in many ways (Turkle made the case most persuasively).

    I had a meeting with some colleagues yesterday to discuss changes we hope to make to our basic writing (many would call it remedial writing) program, and we sort of echoed the concerns you write about here. One of the most frustrating things for me is when students use grammar check and can’t make independent choices to decine the suggestions. (“The computer told me, so it must be correct.)

  2. I like how you described the digital energy field that surrounds us all. We seem to function in two worlds very often today: real and virtual, and I found Turkle’s ideas do connect heavily, too.

    Out of curiosity, where is your writing program? We, too, are changing the way we offer our remedial courses (that is my field). We have heard much about modularizing and contextualizing our content, but I wonder if this does not present that more digital less human approach to learning.

  3. When it comes to graduate study, I know we as a faculty are trying to come up with ways to “humanize” the online learning experience. I think Google Hangouts scheduled at specific times and recorded for those with scheduling conflicts might allow for students “to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being” as you say here. I know of profs at other universities who require that type of interaction in lieu of discussion board posts in order to cover the same amount of material they would in a face-to-face class, so we may explore that option!

  4. I remember back in middle school when I needed to remember phone numbers because we only had a land line. I remember getting a personal organizer that was also a spell checker, and that was the first point where I ceased to memorize phone numbers. It was even worse when I bought my first cell phone. I would enter in a name and number and never have to remember it again. Modern word processors have made knowing how to spell less necessary, and almost everyone relies on a calculator to do even simple math. I’m actually a little nervous about helping my daughter learn math.

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