Responsibility in the Digital Empire

In the first posting of the Digital Empire-Series I tried to demonstrate that such as simple thing as a blog creates a potentially complicated and widespread network.
What I want to add here is that I call it an Empire, because it’s free for everybody. All connectivity tools and feeds described are free, and everything has been implemented with 0 development effort and 0 coding effort. Everybody who can surf the web can implement such an empire.

In the following postings I want to analyze this network with regard to several topics. Today’s topic is responsibility.

As the chart of the Digital Empire shows, you may not even know the audience that finally get’s in touch with your content or versions of it. If the encounters stay occasionally, they may not bother who you are, and you will never know who they are. So why bother about them, why bother about what they might think about the stuff you publish?
That’s one view; it points out that responsibility is not really important in online media – fire & forget.

You may not know the people who get in touch with your content; you have no control about in what context you content is consumed, who will consume it and how they will relate to it. Imagine you publish a picture of yourself hanging out at a party. You are boring as ever, so no threat from there, there are some people in the background. You don’t know what will happen with this picture; as long as it’s digital, it will move on. What does this mean for your relationship to the people on the picture? Are you responsible for what happens, whatever that may be, when whoever makes up whatever out of this visual information?
That’s another view; it points out that online media bring along a very high degree of responsibility – you need to take care with every step.
The philosopher Charles Ess coined the term „fluidity“ to describe this behaviour of information.
You can repeat this with several examples: Do social media cause a loss of empathy, because they substitute real encounters and because they never cause any real consequences? Or do they help to create social talents, to they remind even the nerdiest geek in his darkroom that there are people outside who might react to what he says and does?

Both opinions are valid and can be argued for. I’m more in favour of the second one that sees an increase of responsibility through social media. My reasons are, that productive (instead of consumptive only) media usage increases activity. This refers not only to the activity of producing and publishing something, but to a general state of activity and publicity. I also like to use the word agency to describe this: Being productive shows a potential to act, it also turns you into a visible agent instead of an invisible patient. You’re out there, you’re acting, and your actions shape the world. This is especially what others will notice, when the try to ignore you.
Honesty, Power, and other aspects will be covered in the next postings.
Generally, this position is quite easy to be ridiculed: All this digital stuff is not real, you might say; there are no real people and even if there are real people, there are still no real consequence. If you don’t like what happens – go offline.
But if this were true – why are we so fascinated by free speech through online media where freedom still makes a difference? And why is the business world so afraid of the potential consequences of digital communication? ACTA, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement deals exactly with the responsibility issues: Users are asked/forced to consider consequences of what they do – it’s only that the background is different, and probably not so nice. With such a twist, even threats like ACTA might be regarded as means to demonstrate the value of online media.
More information about ACTA in this preliminary version of the agreement or in the embedded video:

The almost impossible control that ACTA wants to impose on all internet users has some analogies to the responsibiilty-argument:

  • What you do has effects and may have consequences.
  • You have to know what you’re doing (media literacy), and you have to be clear and precise about what you’re saying how (you never know the context of consumption).
  • Publishing online for several years and sharing your contents with several thousand people definitely creates something; it’s not nothing, not just an empty bucket. What is it?

On the one side, it’s history (as virtual, far away and long gone as it can be). On the other side this part of our lives is about to become something very real and influential. Its a pity that we only have some freaky martial metaphors to describe that (cyborg, man machine, …) That’s why I liked Martin Skopals talk from the World Blogging Forum. Even if I’m still not sure if I understand it – it looks friendly… 🙂

Martin Skopal – Being connected from World Blogging Forum Vienna 2010 on Vimeo. on stage (Photo Pilo Pichler)

The Digital Empire
Responsibility in the Digital Empire
Power in the Digital Empire
Agency in the Digital Empire

Comments 2

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  1. First of all, thanks for liking my talk, even with all it shortcomings. It is, after all, a very good example for it being now a part of „my“ digital empire, as it states my name at first and is connected through a series of articles, tweets, sites to my digital identity, as i have called it. You could as well name it your digital persona. At the moment, i see all three terms easily exchangeable:

    Digital Empire/Identity/Persona

    It just emphasizes another contextuality/meaning.

    I don’t know, if you have read my articles, from which i took a rather small for my talk. I’ll link them here, they develop your digital empire-theme in another direction: – Inter­net or Estab­lish­ing connections – Hard­ware or Get­ting connected – Soft­ware or Being connected

  2. Thanks for posting the links here.
    I’m actually not sure if I really consider what I am describing as empire to be something like an identity. I rather think of it as a workspace, as the area in which I can act.
    But I can still change it, shut it down and, most important, leave it.
    I know that it’s not 100% controllable anymore, but still I focus more on the functional part.
    Maybe it is something that extends our reach or our actions, but it’s still something different from us.

    Empire sounds a lot like „my“, but to me it’s rather the blog’s empire. For me, it’s something I can play with. There MUST be more than media, be they analog or digital, tools or brands…

Responsibility in the Digital Empire

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