Last week I had the pleasure to hear Nicole Dewandre talk about Hyperconnectivity at the Rotary club of Waterloo. Nicole works as advisor for societal issues for the Director General of the DG CONNECT at the European Commission.
Her presentation was about the impact hyperconnectivity has on our human condition from a philosophical point of view. I was very interested in hearing her view on the impacts of the new information technologies.
She first described the characteristics of our human psychology, I picked some nuggets like ‘On passe sa vie derrière son visage’, meaning that we have only our inside view point, we don’t know how we look like from outside, to the others. This is why we need the other’s reflection to complete our identity. Before the hyper-connectivity era, we could choose the limit of exposure of our inner-world, we could say or not where we had been, what we did, what we thought depending on the context : is the person we are talking to a friend or a working colleague?
With all the electronic traces and information we leave behind, the online and offline distinction is blurring, that’s why they came up with the term ‘OnLife’ :-). And with the existing Big Data techniques we are revealing so much more about ourselves, that the needs of opacity each person has is being challenged.
The Onlife manifesto proposes to create a new digital literacy: as language is not only being able to put words on a sentence, but consists also of a code of conduct: what can be said, in which context? (for example ‘secretos en reunión es mala educación’ which means it’s bad manners to whisper in public) , we have to create awareness in all digital users of a code of conduct, a ‘Netiquette’ of the digital world. What can be posted and to which public? Posting pictures of a trash party on Facebook: is it OK to publish it open to all public without the consent of each person in the picture? Is it OK for your phone company supplier to publish or sell your whereabouts?
The manifesto points also out the problem of attention: everybody wants to capture our attention, but as we can only focus on one thing at a time, our attention is a limited asset as time.
We believe that societies must protect, cherish and nurture humans’ attentional capabilities. This does not mean giving up searching for improvements: that shall always be useful. Rather, we assert that attentional capabilities are a finite, precious and rare asset. In the digital economy, attention is approached as a commodity to be exchanged on the market place, or to be channelled in work processes. But this instrumental approach to attention neglects the social and political dimensions of it, i.e., the fact that the ability and the right to focus our own attention is a critical and necessary condition for autonomy, responsibility, reflexivity, plurality, engaged presence, and a sense of meaning.
This ‘Onlife Manifesto’ seems an interesting initiative. I’ll look more into it.