Values and Ethics in the Cyber Age
“Cyber Values Systems” - John Bellavance 22nd October 2010
“Entities”, “Agents of Change” and “Outcomes”
Are individual, family and societal values (as “agents of change”) affecting new media practices, or are the inherent values associated with new media (as “agents of change”) affecting individual, family, societal and cultural practices? From a ‘media ecology’ perspective the same questions can be asked in this way; are new media practices and cultures (outcomes) affected by broader social and cultural patterns (agents of change) or are the inherent values associated with new media (“agents of change”) affecting social structures (“entities”) and cultures (outcomes)? Feenberg (2002) asks these question: Will technology continually influence and shape the social and physical aspects of human life? Or, is there hope that human beings can as intelligent and moral agents guide technology? The premise of these questions is that values in context (social systems) affect society and the use of technology.
In the “Cyber values Systems” model I propose that individuals, families and society (social structures) are “entities” which come with inherent values (“agents of change”) that affect ‘new media’ cultures and behaviours (“outcomes”). I also argue that new media are also “entities” that come with “inherent values” (“agents of change”) that in turn affect individual, family, societal cultures and behaviours (“outcomes”). This approach recognises the existence of a dynamic system where the “inherent values” of both society and technology act as “agents of change” that shape social action and cultural expression (‘networked publics’ and to some extent broader ones). I propose that the interaction between the inherent values that are part of ‘new media’ and society translate into group behaviours that create new social structures and cultures and that these new social structures and cultures in turn influence the values of ‘new media’ and society (cultures). Values influence behaviours and behaviours influence values. In the “Cyber values Systems” model society and new media are “entities”, “agents of change” and “cultures” that together form dynamic social structures. I argue that these complex values interactions can only be understood in the context of social systems.
Values as “Agents of Change”
As previously suggested values play a role as an “agents of change” that affect practices and cultures (outcomes). Human values drive the use of tools and tools embody the values of our civilisation. Gardner (2000) argues that cultures make choices about the values they want to promote. He proposes that every culture tries to make sure that their youth master certain skills, acquire certain values because adults in these communities see how important it is for these young people to develop intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally and civically. Schools are communities that exist in a cultural context, schools transmit specific values and therefore have no choice but to embody or struggle against the values of their culture. Pacey (1983) proposed that we need to explore what aspects of technology are tied up with cultural values and which are not. Generally, those who write about social relations and social control of technology tend to focus on organisation, particularly on planning and administration. Yet there is a wide range of human content in technological practices that need to be looked at such as personal values and individual experiences with technology. Feenberg (2002) argues that the ultimate issue is how can we redesign technology to better serve humanity and by critically examining our values we may be able to imagine another possible paradigm for an industrial civilisation based on other values, transforming technology is primarily a social issue not a technical one. When technology is discussed in a restricted way, cultural values and organisational factors are regarded as external to it. It matters what tools are available to a culture, but it matters more what that culture chooses to do with those tools. From a social perspective the influences of new technologies depends on the pre-existing social conditions, not just on the attributes of the technology itself. If girls see the places where computing is used as the domain of boys (internet cafes, the video arcades, LAN parties) then computing may be more likely to be perceived by girls as a male domain. Ito, et al, (2010) argue that youth new media practice are part of a broader social and cultural ecology. Familiar practices of making friends, gossiping, bullying, and jockeying for status are reproduced online. The sociology-of-youth-and-children approach proposes that we move beyond a simple socialization model in which children are passive recipients of dominant and “adult” ideologies and norms (agents of change) to a model where children collectively participate in society, in which children (“agent of change”) “negotiate, share, and create culture (“outcomes”) with adults and each other. A new paradigm is emerging which recognizes the active role of media audiences in networked public cultures. The implications of this are that cultures created in new media environments are affected by the values that young people bring to them.
New Media as “Agents of Change”
Based on existing literature it can also be argued that the inherent values associated with new media also act as “agents of change” which affect human cultures. Children’s use of the internet has wider implications than any other previous medium, even television or since the printed book and mass literacy. Some researcher argue that values and norms surrounding education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications. Contemporary networked publics are providing unique affordance that is changing peer learning, sharing, and sociability. Technology is playing a role in establishing, reinforcing, complicating, and damaging friendship-driven social bonds in young people. Young people have always sought to find their own identity and autonomy, but in the cyber age they are doing this while the contexts for communication, friendship, play, and self expression are being reconfigured through their engagement with new media. Technology enables the outside world to come into the home, which was once a private space, largely non-commercial space defined by family and community norms; even younger children are immersed in consumer culture which emphasises choice, lifestyles. Teens leverage social media for a variety of practices that are familiar elements of teen life, yet the networked, public nature of online communication does change these practices in new ways.
“Cyber Values Systems” – Family and other Societal Structures
Family as a “Cyber Values System”
In this model I propose that there exist several possible “cyber values systems” (family, friendships, networked publics, convergence and so on). The literature indicates that the interactions between the inherent values of family and friendships, and new media are having an effect on new media practices and childhood. The relations and social dynamics that play out in the lives of young people extend into the spaces created through social media. Ito, et al, (2010) argue that while technological change may happening quickly, the underlying practices of sociability, learning, play, and self-expression are undergoing a slower evolution because of the resilient social and cultural structures that youth inhabit (family, friendship groups and school). Ito, et al, (2010) also argue that parents’ values and beliefs, and parenting style shape the new media participation of their children. Home and family environments reflect the values, morals, and aspirations of families as well as beliefs about the importance and effects of new media for learning and communication. They argue that families constitute one of the primary social contexts for ongoing informal engagements with new media and the antagonistic and cooperative forms of parent-child dynamics surrounding new media act as structuring contexts to describe peer based practices.
Friendship as a “Cyber Values System”
The social systems of friendship groups and school are also playing an important role. Ito, et al, (2010) propose that despite the perception that online media are enabling teens to reach out to a new set of social relations, the relations fostered in school are by far the most dominant in how they define their peers and friendships. They mostly build friendships with others of similar age who shared their interests and values which is configured by the social, cultural, and economic conditions around them.
I argue that Cybernetics when applied to social systems can be used to understand the affect that resilient social and cultural structures are having on new media practices. In Cybernetics there are two types of feedback systems: a positive feedback systems that alters the status quo and negative feedback systems that maintain the status quo. Families and friendship groups (“entities”) can governs themselves through “negative feedback” (“agents of change”) therefore reducing “deviation” enabling the system to “right” itself and return to its original state when new unbalancing affects (“agents of change”) impinges on it. Negative feedback may come from parents, teachers or friends. Parents may insist that young people limit the duration, the location and content of new media (family values and rules). The rules that parents impose may be based on with their own “value system”, but they may also be based on their beliefs about new media. Parents also leverage new media as a positive feedback systems offering rewards (new game, mobile phone, or digital camera) for good grades and behaviours. The concept of homeostasis explains the tendency of families and other social systems (friendship groups, school) to maintain a given configurational relationship (the form of the system). Friendships may also act as negative feedback systems. The negative feedback (norms and values) coming from family, school and friendship groups seem to be having a greater affect on youth new media practices and cultures than the inherent values associated with new media. These inherent values (family, friendships) may “reduce deviation” and maintain “the status quo”, but this does not tell us what these “values” are and what this “status quo” is. We still need to determine this in order to determine the consequence of these “values” and “norms” so that we can determine which values should be mobilised to positively affect youth new media practices (maintain or change the status quo). “Family values” that seek to maintain the “status quo” may be based on “authentic values” but they may not. Some research contends that many parents feel the pressure to restrict and control their children’s use of new media due the parent’s desire to cultivate their “family identity”, or “reputation”.
Devoting more attention to fostering a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape is important since these “value system” may produce good practices, behaviours, competencies and cultures (outcomes), but it may not. In this context society needs to guide this process in order to reach the delicate balance between continuity and modernity. I argue that “positive values” and their associated social skills and literacies need to be present for new media outcomes to also be positive. Goleman (2004) argues for the need for personal competencies and social skills which he describes as a body of skills that emotional and social intelligence represents. He describes character as the psychological muscle that moral conduct requires. Emotional intelligence is a result of the link between sentiment, character and moral instinct. I argue that families, friendship groups and schools as “value systems” are playing an important role in youth new media practices and if we can identify the appropriate values and social skills that these structures are providing, we can then mobilise these as “agents of change” to produce better outcomes in youth new media practices and cultures.
Networked Public Cultures as a “Cyber Values System”
The terms ‘network publics’, ‘networked public cultures’, ‘social production’ and ‘participatory cultures, are used to describe the interactions between new technologies and social and cultural processes. Rather than conceptualize everyday media engagement as consumption by audiences, the term ‘networked publics’ represents an active participation in distributed social network that involves the production and circulation of culture and knowledge. Livingstone argues that family boundaries are being undermined and reconstituted through the use of new media. I argue that networked public cultures are “values systems” and that networked public cultures are outcome of the interactions between individuals and society (“entities”) and new media (also “entities”) and that these outcomes are partially determined by the dynamic affect between the inherent values of individuals and society (as agents of change) and the inherent values of new media (also “agents of change”).
I argue that the media cultures that youth inhabit (Benkler, 2008; Ito, et al., 2010) come with “inherent values” that affect youth culture. As individuals produce media they also input their own meanings into these products (Benkler, 2008; Ito, et al., 2010). Since young people also have the potential to be the publishers of user-generated content, (Benkler, 2008; Ito, et al., 2010) they also act as “agents of change” and spread “values”. Benkler (2008) argues that when we have information inputs so radically distributed, behaviours that where once on the peripheries of economic life (social intrections) have now moved to the core of economic life. The shift from consumers to users of media has caused a cultural shift in practices (H. Jenkins, 2008). We are moving toward a world in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced (Henry Jenkins, et al., 2009). Henry Jenkins, et al. (2009) argue that participatory culture is reworking the rules by which school, cultural expression, civic life, and work operate. I propose that participation in online “affinity spaces” (informal learning cultures) (Henry Jenkins, et al., 2009) involves the acquisition and distribution of values (systems). Varnelis (2008) argues that network publics are not merely a technology but a cultural force that not only connects the world, but reconfigures the economy and culture. Sociocultural approaches to learning have recognized that learning happens in informal settings, as a side effect of everyday life and social activity, rather than in an explicit instructional agenda (Ito, et al., 2010). Learning is a multi-faceted social phenomenon involving the whole community (Bromley, 1997; Gardner, 2000; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). Networked public cultures have social and cultural implication because human cooperation is loosened from tight, all encompassing social relations (family, school, religion) to broader networks (Benkler, 2008). Networked public cultures are also having a formative influence in lives of teens; they are influencing the dynamics of social reciprocity, negotiations over popularity and status (Ito, et al., 2010). Based on the existing literature it can be argued that the “inherent values” that are part of these ‘networked public cultures’ are acting as “agent of change” are impacting youth practices and cultures.