What are the promises and challenges of the digital information age?
Can there be peace online?
If so, what would it entail?
Any link between online peace and privacy?
How can youth affect change?
What skills and knowledge are needed?
Come join us to explore these questions in a one-day workshop offered by Digital Youth Peacebuilders Network (Digital YPN):
When: Saturday, January 19th, 2019, 9:30a.m. - 4:30p.m.
Who: Youth ages 12-18
Where: Georgetown, Washington D.C. Further details upon R.S.V.P.
Registration: Limited capacity. Please R.S.V.P. by filling out the form below.
Our humanity in the age of AI: why it should be society’s top priority and how individuals can cultivate it?
If machines can out perform humans in thinking, physicality and productivity, what is unique about humans in the age of AI? And what can people do in their role as individuals, parents or educators to cultivate these unique human qualities?
Come join us to explore these questions at a community potluck brunch on Sunday, January 20th, 2019, 10:30a.m. in the neighbourhood of Georgetown, Washington D.C..
Email to RSVP and further details will be provided.
Reputation is increasingly being regarded as one of the most important social capitals in the digital age. Why? Social interconnectedness and interdependence are two of the most distinct characteristics of the digital age. While we have always depended on others, the range of people on whom we depend now extends way beyond our immediate social circles. Trust is crucial to sustaining these webs of interdependence. Because trust is so important, trustworthiness is valued at a premium. Since a person’s reputation is one of the most important gauges of his trustworthiness, good reputation is now especially valued.
While qualities of shared humanity and time honoured virtues generate trust and good reputation, whenever there is conflict, they are weakened and undermined. Conflict makes it hard to recognize those we are in conflict with as humans, capable of reasoning, understanding, moral attributes or growth. It tarnishes the reputation of all involved in the conflict, and erodes people’s faith in others. Digital technologies further amplify the negative impact of conflict, particularly with respect to the injury it causes to one’s reputation. This rising stake of conflict heightens the importance and value of proactive conflict resolution and prevention.
Workshop: The Amplifying Effects of Digital Technologies on Human Capacities
Are today's children and youth, despite being called "digital natives" sometimes, literate in their role as digital citizens? What digital literacy do they need to meet the requirements of the digital age? What human capacities can they tap into to become more digitally literate?
Join us to explore these questions on Thursday, March 30, 2017 7:00 to 8:30pm at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 3rd Fl, Rm 3-322 (Lab 6), 252 Bloor St. W., Toronto.
The workshop will be facilitated by Ms. Helen Cheng, who is a lawyer and conflict resolution innovator whose work focuses on strengthening human interoperability in the digital age. She is a faculty member of the Justice Institute of British Columbia, and has lectured at Osgoode Hall Law School and other universities around the world. She completed her Master of Laws from Harvard Law School and her research is published in leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Helen is also a parent of two digital natives.
In November 2016, Oxford Dictionaries announced “post-truth” to be the 2016 Word of the Year, as use of the word has increased by 2000% over its usage in 2015. It defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
What do you think are some of the implications relating to the rise of “post-truth”? What role does digital technology play, if any, in bringing about a post-truth era? How should we respond to the rise of post-truth, particularly in relation to our own online activities and actions?
The Children’s Commissioner of UK recently hired a lawyer to translate Instagram’s Terms and Conditions into a more accessible, easy-to-understand language. After reading the simplified version of the Terms and Conditions, one 13 years old said to the Commissioner:
“They must know that no one reads the Terms and Conditions. But if they made it more easy then people would actually read it and think twice about the app. They write it like this so you can’t understand it. Because then you might think differently.”
Check out the simplified T&C and see if you find them acceptable? If you don’t, what choices do you have as an Instagram User?
The advent of digital technologies has opened up an online space that is transforming the architecture of every aspect of our social life. The social forces unleashed by human interactions in this online space are upsetting the equilibrium of multiple aspects of our pre-existing order, not the least of which is the way in which leadership is envisioned and practiced. Notions such as “smart mobs,” or real-life “leaderless movements” such as the various “Occupy” movements around the world, highlight the effective agency of grassroots networks that are enabled by an ever-growing array of digital and wireless communication technologies. These technologically driven social experiments cast into doubt familiar notions of and approaches to leadership that are hierarchical, top down, command driven or control oriented, or that rely on the charismatic authority of a few. Meanwhile, a new set of leadership dynamics that are participatory, collaborative, networked, and that allow for a diffusion of power at the grassroots, are beginning to emerge. These changing expressions of leadership call for a questioning of what leadership means in the digital age: what are some commonly held notions of leadership? To what extent are these familiar notions challenged by the advent of the digital age? What kind of ideal digital social space do we want to build? What kind of leaders does it need? What skills and visions would such a leader need to have?
Humans are tool-makers. Dating back as far back as the Stone Age, our ancestors have invented tools to augment human capacities. The tools we invent not only augment by enabling us to do what was previously unattainable, they also broaden our consciousness by enabling us to imagine new potentialities and possibilities. This is why one way of ordering history is through the tools that emerge during that particular period. Yet, the amplifying effects of tools cut both ways and can be either generative or destructive. Tools magnify both the good and the bad.
With the invention of digital technologies, ours is the digital age. Digital tools are among some of the most powerful tools humanity has ever created. While they may serve to augment the human capacities for knowledge, love and will, they also magnify the state of development of these capacities, making the consequence associated with their absence or inadequacy more ruinous and devastating. For instance, just as digital tools have dramatically enhanced our capacities to seek truth and make discovery, they have also heightened our ability to mislead and spread falsehood. While digital technologies have enabled people to connect and collaborate with others on a scale never experienced before, they could also be used to relentlessly torment and harm. Even as digital technologies have significantly expanded people’s freedom to choose and to create, they are also quickly eroding people’s privacy and giving rise to widespread surveillance that constrains freedom.
Digital tools have enabled people to do more good and harm. Only through education can we harness the positive potentials of digital technologies and avert their dangers. As cyber-culture expert Howard Rheingold has said, “the cutting edge of change has moved the technology to the literacies made possible by the technology.”
Literacy is the development of those aspects of us that make us human. But what does it mean to be human especially in the age of artificial intelligence? One response is suggested by thinker and social entrepreneur Dov Seidman, who says that what makes humans unique are all the things that come from the heart: “humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.” Another formulation of our humanity would be an integrative notion of consciousness, comprising of: our ability to know and be aware that we know; our ability to love and be aware that we love; and our ability to choose and be aware of our freedom of choice. Humans are distinguished and elevated by the creative power unleashed by these capacities.
Digital literacy means extending these capacities of knowledge, love and will to contexts involving our interaction with digital technologies. This literacy development approach goes beyond discussing the negative or proposing what ought to be prohibitive as a way of dealing with the dangers and pitfalls of digital technologies. Instead, its emphasis is on cultivating the positive potentiality of every digital citizen to develop the awareness, mindset and practical skills needed to meet the challenges and opportunities of the digital age.
In its training programs, EFDP identifies how these human capacities might be implicated in different digital contexts and explores ways to further their development:
The capacity to know: this capacity allows us to investigate, recognize, understand and communicate what is true. A mature capacity for knowledge is characterized by the spirit of truth-seeking and the willingness to act according to truth. Some examples of related questions in the digital context: Could algorithms be biased? Big data: what are the benefits and dangers of understanding the world through correlation? Do we live in a filter bubble? How and why do hoaxes, untruth and misinformation spread? How are online artifacts preserved? And what does this mean for social institutions such as the library?
The capacity to love: Love is an active force of attraction. The objects of our love are various: some are creative and generative; others are destructive and inhibit our growth. The quality of our love is closely related to the object of our love. A mature capacity for love is characterized by the capacity to create conditions of unity in diversity and is expressed in valuing all life forms. Examples of related questions in the digital context include: How have digital technologies enhanced our ability to share and connect more with others? Could sharing and collaborating ever be bad? Wikipedia expects its contributors to “assume good faith” when interacting with others on the platform, what does this mean? And why is this important? How does an open-source model of collaboration work? What values and assumptions underlie it?
The capacity to will: the capacity to choose is uniquely human. We have the freedom to choose between good and bad, between action and inaction, and to determine the direction and quality of our lives. This capacity allows us to be informed by our intellect and emotional faculties, evaluate different factors in a given situation and choose to override our urges if necessary. A mature use of this will power is characterized by a commitment to act in accordance with fundamental human rights and other universal principles of ethics and truth. Examples of related questions: Have you learnt to code? Do you deliberately disconnect from your screens sometime? How do you choose to represent yourself and engage with others on social media? Do you read the terms and conditions of the online services that you use? Do you actively seek to learn about technological trends and what they mean for individuals and society? Motivated by a preference for freebies, we pay no money to use many online platforms, but are these services free? How much are we willing to pay if these services charge a fee?
THE ETHICS OF SOCIAL NETWORKS IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The Internet, digital technologies and social media have heightened our awareness of the interconnection between people, as well as the networked nature of reality. Social networks have always existed, but the Internet and online technologies have brought about a much greater consciousness of this fact, as well as intensified a range of social forces that constitute our networked reality.
A social network is made up of two elements: human beings and the connection between them. While the characteristic of a network is shaped by the qualities of people in the network and their connections, the network is a distinct entity, greater than the sum of its parts. In The Chemistry of Social Networks, Nicholas Christakis uses the examples of diamond and graphite to explain this point:
So you can take carbon atoms and you can assemble the carbon atoms into graphite and here we put together a particular hexagonal pattern of ties and you get sheets of graphite and this graphite is soft and dark. Or we can take the same carbon atoms and assemble the bonds between the carbon atoms differently and we get diamond, which is hard and clear. These properties of softness and darkness or hardness and clearness first of all differ dramatically, not because the carbon is different. The carbon is the same in both, but rather because of the ties between the carbon atoms. And second these properties are not properties of the carbon atoms. They’re properties of the group, properties of the collection of carbon atoms. Therefore, when we take constituent elements and assemble them to a larger whole, this larger whole can have properties that we could not have foreseen merely by studying the individual elements and properties which do not reside within the individual elements.
Whether our networked social reality in the digital age is going to be “diamond” or “graphite”, depends on the kind of person we are as individuals and how we relate to others around us. This perspective has important ethical implications for individual digital citizens, as well as institutions such as family, school, workplace, business and government.
Wikipedia, the online multilingual encyclopedia, has been regarded as one of the shining “diamonds” of the Internet. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has said,
Wikipedia has come to define the very best in an ethic of a different kind of economy or community: at its core, it is a “collaborative community” that freely and voluntarily gives to the world a constant invitation to understand and correct. More than any democracy, it empowers broadly. More than any entity anywhere, it elicits the very best of an amateur ethic—people working hard for the love of the work, and not for the money.
Not only is Wikipedia the most widely used encyclopedia in the world, it is also a community built upon an emerging worldview that is global and service oriented, participatory and collaborative at the grassroots, reflects and demands ethics of good faith and openness, as well as consultative in decision-making. It manifests in concrete form the kinds of human interaction widely considered as utopian and impossible.
EFDP engages its program participants to think broadly about the characteristics and ethics of social network in the digital age. These insights provide the basis for developing the perspectives, mindset and skills that a digital citizen needs in order to realize the potentials and meet the challenges of a digital age. They provide the conceptual building blocks upon which we find solutions to address concerns such as cyber-bullying and privacy, as well as ways to advance the best that digital technologies offer, such as heightened capacities for knowledge, innovation and collaboration.
In her book It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, danah boyd said that Corinne, a thirteen-year-old girl from Massachusetts, once proudly told her that she didn’t use Wikipedia. When asked why, she explained, “I’ve heard that it’s not true, and usually if I’m looking for something that I want, and it’s true, I usually go on Google.” Apparently, Corinne’s teachers had “encouraged her to use Google to search for information. They told her that Wikipedia was full of inaccuracies because anyone can edit it. Like many of her peers, Corinne had interpreted this to mean that anything that appeared at the top of the Google result page must be true. If not, why would it appear at the top?”
Online bullying and harassment has increasingly gained acceptance and become normalized in major social media platforms. Yet, the tragic stories of Amanda Todd and many others, remind us the personal toll such behavior causes, as well as the toxicity it generates in online environments. Such behaviors are especially prevalent in platforms that allows users to communicate anonymously, such as Ask.fm and Yik Yak.
Imagine you are the principal of a local high school that is dealing with online harassments faced by some of your students. What would you do to address this pernicious issue? How should the school react to the harassments that have taken place? Are there structural changes such as school policies, as well as cultural changes that could proactively minimize harassments in the future?