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Individual responsibility, collective standards

Having written lately about moral standards and collective patterns of behaviour (see Notes One), the question of how actions add up and ways of working more constructively with that seems a natural next step. I mean, we can complain about lack of accountability online and the trends that’s giving rise to; but what can really be done about it?

As discussed in those posts, there are countless occasions where ideas, assumptions, and reactions are voiced online and seemingly merge together into this self-defining reality. Trains of thought get laid out for us and we take them in, share them, or argue against them. People communicate in certain ways and – with no system for redressing it – that creeps into our lives and becomes normal.

Maybe there’s little to be done about that. Systems for regulating online life bubble up every now and again or the businesses running certain sites are called upon to lift the bar in terms of what’s acceptable; but essentially it’s so fast moving and on such a vast scale that any human-based policy or systemic algorithm seems destined to fall short of what we feel is needed.

That might be met with resignation about ‘how things are’, or maybe indignation as we try to reason within that slightly abstract and lawless space. Broadly speaking, the emotions there being apathy or anger: apathy in overlooking problems or withdrawing from them; anger in a raw sense or as a more articulated response.

Which is what it is: we’re right to be upset at these collective spaces being filled with abuse, carelessness, anger, disrespect, and lies; and we’re right to feel slightly powerless in how best to address or engage with that. And all of that impacts us in a very real way, as we’re constantly being exposed to this highly emotive, unregulated content.

And sometimes I wonder whether – rather than waiting for the system to change – the answer lies in each of us: if we might be better off honing our personal sense of ethics and accountability, rather than waiting for an effective regulatory response to appear.

Headlines may pique our curiosity; tempt our desire to judge, to revel in our good fortune; or offer an affirmation of our views and identity. Other stories might gleefully depict another’s misfortune or share titbits about their lives. And there seems a certain satisfaction in fighting your corner and taking others down in that public sphere. Humans are clearly complex psychological creatures and our motivations online are fascinating, if often dark, reading.

But all these individual actions add up and might even be fuelling the fire: demonstrating both the market for that content and our incapacity to regulate ourselves. Modern times are presenting us with considerable challenges to our ways of being and relating (Notes Two); and we could wait for others to start policing our darker sides, or begin holding ourselves more accountable. Maybe there’s an attitude between apathy and anger capable of calmly, consistently, and compassionately articulating our own ideals.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Morality and modern thought
Note 1: Empathy in a world that happily destroys
Note 1: Privacy and our online existence
Note 2: Globalised society finding its feet
Note 2: Tech as an evolving second life

Also Trying to understand our times which spoke in a general sense about slowing down to understand our paths.

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