Third Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics
By Emily Olsen, SOC Website Reporter
Just a few years ago Internet users couldn’t easily connect to their best friend from kindergarten, procrastinate with YouTube videos for hours or keep up with breaking news from across the world.
Digital media has changed our lives for the better in many ways, but it has also raised new ethical problems.
The hopes behind the Third Annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics presented by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy and the School of Communication on Oct. 4 were to create a dialogue by inviting communication academics and professionals to discuss some of the biggest problems in digital ethics.
“There’s so many things that are happening online, we can’t even keep up,” said Event Coordinator Meghan Ashbrock, “We want to give students a solid backing in how to make ethical choices.”
Presentations varied from how we can balance public safety and privacy with the ease of surveillance technology, how the Internet is damaging traditional media outlets and how gamers view cheating in online games.
“Privacy as an obstacle to a better understanding of ourselves on one hand, and moral growth and freedom on the other,” said Professor Jeroen van den Hoven during his presentation on Ethics in the Age of Big Data.
Keynote speaker Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now and Program or Be Programmed as well as the creator of documentaries like Digital Nation.
“Douglas to me and to others is the living definition of a public intellectual,” said School of Communication Dean Don Heider, “What he writes always seems to matter.”
Rushkoff notes that the Internet used to be a place that was not easily accessible; dial-up could take a long time to log on, giving Internet users a lot of time to plan their comments for online forums.
“People sounded smarter online than they did in real life because they had so much time,” said Rushkoff.
Now it’s hard to find any time where people can’t quickly plug in, contact their friends and post their opinions online. This has created strange phenomena like phantom vibration syndrome, a relatively new condition where people imagine phone calls or texts.
This constant contact takes media users out of the now, said Rushkoff, leaving them in a constant heightened state of awareness of what others are doing. There was once a time when they could be only be contacted when something serious had happened. Now media users receive a phone update anytime there’s a Facebook update.
“We live in a state of perpetual emergency interruption,” said Rushkoff.
Rushkoff argues that many Internet and digital companies don’t always use these life-changing technologies to help their users, but only to increase “eyeball hours” or times when they are online.
“Their value system has nothing to do with how to help people, but how to win,” said Rushkoff.
Students viewed the digital ethics concerns presented in the symposium as important lessons for their future careers.
“I feel that ethics in the digital realm is not talked about very much and it needs to change so we can see a change in our policy,” said junior Eric Kane.