This is a reader-friendly book that teaches without patronizing, with a didactic style that can only be the result of decades of care and experience in guiding students and readers through difficult topics. Its degree of accessibility is as misleading as the ability of an acrobat to make her performance look effortless. The third edition just got even friendlier.
Many things are like pornography: it is very difficult to define them, but you recognize them immediately when you see them. Digital media
are not an exception. Because we all know what digital media are, even if it is hard to determine the exact boundaries of their nature, applications, evolutions, and effects on our lives, I am confident that the reader will understand why I would recommend this book not only inside but also outside the classroom. Given its topic, its approach, and its style, this is a book for the educated public as well. It should be read by anyone interested in the development and future of the information society and our moral lives within it.
Preface to the Third Edition No one was more surprised – and then, gratified beyond measure – by the successes of the first edition of this little book. And then came suggestions that a second edition might be in order – and then a third: well, what are surprise and immeasurable gratification squared and then cubed?
Many good comments from colleagues and students who have used the book indicate that “success” here means first of all pedagogical success. The book is designed precisely as a classroom text for use across a wide range of academic disciplines. My intention is that it should be accessible and useful for “the rest of us” – all of us who are neither technology professionals nor philosophically trained ethicists. The guiding assumption here (from Aristotle, along with many other global traditions) is that we are already ethical beings, already equipped with experience and capacities in ethical judgment (phronēsis). The aim is to provide a basic ethical toolkit for better coming to grips with the many ethical challenges that confront us all as consumers and citizens, even designers of a digital media lifeworld.1 The broad strategy conjoins primary ethical frameworks and theory with specific ethical experiences in our digital existence – increasingly, as several examples argue, our post-digital existence.2 And lots of practice by way of the “Reflection/discussion/writing questions” designed to provoke and guide reflection and discussion that apply the ethical insights and theories to central examples. On a good day, students and readers will thereby become more adept in using these ethical tools to more confidently and successfully take on newer challenges most certainly to come.
These structures and approaches apparently work – hence (again) a new edition. But to state the painfully obvious: things change fast in our technological world. This was certainly true for the three years between the first (2009) and second editions (2012): it is all the more the case for the subsequent six or so years. Quantitatively: ever more people in the world are connecting to the internet, increasingly via
mobile devices. Along the way, the past six years have witnessed the increasing roles of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and an emerging Internet of Things (IoT), along with social robots and sexbots. Qualitatively: the optimism driving much of the development and visions of “the internet” from the early 1990s onward appears to have peaked around 2012 following the first-blush successes of the 2011 Arab Springs. Early enthusiasm surrounding these so-called “Twitter Revolutions” or “Facebook Revolutions” was soon tempered by the harsh realities of the Arab Winters of 2013 and thereafter. With the one shining exception of Tunisia, these democratization movements were brutally crushed, in part as regimes learned how to censor and manipulate social media. They further transformed these technologies into infrastructures of total state surveillance – including in ostensibly more democratic societies, as Edward Snowden’s revelations of the US National Security Agency’s surveillance programs documented.