These thorny questions regarding our sensitive use of SNSs vis-à-vis death are just the beginning of our ethical challenges. Both online and offline, the deceased leave behind an extensive digital record – their emails, text messages, SNS profiles, postings, photographs, etc. Do we delete or somehow preserve their SNS profile? What are we to do with a loved one’s tablet and/or phone and/or computer and all of its records – some of which, almost certainly, she or he would not want us or anyone else to have access to?
The following are useful resources for beginning to reflect on these additional ethical issues:
Kathleen M. Cumiskey and Larissa Hjorth (2017) Haunting Hands: Mobile Media Practices and Loss. Oxford University Press.
Reviews the multiple dimensions of culturally specific notions of grief; the distinctive features of mobile media that disrupt our earlier notions of “public” and “private,” as distinctive sites and venues for grief; and then provides a series of in-depth explorations of “culturally specific, affect-laden rituals in and around mobile media practices,” followed by “the ways in which the mobile device can become haunted”.
Zizi Papacharissi (ed.) A Networked Self and Birth, Life, Death London: Routledge. Several of the chapters collected here directly address the diverse intersections between death and digital media:
Amanda Lagerkvist, The Ethos of Quantification in Bereavement Online;
Tama Leaver, Co-Creating Birth and Death on Social Media;
Catherine Steele and Jessica Lu, Defying Death: Black Joy as Resistance Online;
Crystal Abidin, Young People and Digital Grief Etiquette.
The latter two are especially useful as they extend the scope of research across racial and cultural boundaries (Abidin’s material is drawn from Singapore).
Slow technology and the Fairphone Another indicator that we may be in a post-digital era is the increasing interest in “slow technology” and “slow design” approaches. Lars Hallnäs and Johan Redström define slow technology as “a design agenda for technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rest rather than efficiency in performance”. These approaches have gradually gained ground in recent years: Norberto Patrignani and Diane Whitehouse (2018) present slow tech as an approach that offers people more time for reflection and for the processes needed to design and use ICT that takes into account human well-being (good ICT), the whole life cycle of the materials, energy, and products used to create, manufacture, power, and dispose of ICT (clean ICT), and the working conditions of workers throughout the entire ICT supply chain (fair ICT).
Their focus on “human well-being” points precisely toward virtue ethics’ defining aims of flourishing and good lives – precisely the key commitments of virtuous design. Patrignani and Whitehouse further argue for affiliated ethical commitments to design that takes on board the imperatives of environmental sustainability and matters of fairness and justice. Nor can these be dismissed as somehow utopian or merely theoretical. Rather, Patrignani and Whitehouse foreground real-world design projects – including by the Italian companies Olivetti and Loccioni, as well as the Dutch-based Fairphone – that exemplify slow-tech design approaches. As well, Patrignani and Whitehouse argue that the requirements for “responsible research and innovation” now built into the European Commission’s major funding project, its Horizon 2020 program, likewise require researchers and their collaborators to take on board some of the ethical commitments involved here.