Good grief! Death, Existenz, and the Virtues of a Post-Digital Era
Tuesday, 6 September 2016, 1 – 2:30pm
Recent research shows that while some people grieve and memorialize death online, some young people abandon social media in favour of 'real life' for the sake of shared grieving. Professor Charles Ess will review recent research, beginning with new forms of digitally-mediated healing and comfort, and demonstrate how these findings signal and index broader developments.
Firstly, both religious and existential traditions insist that acknowledging our mortality is essential to our taking responsibility for our existence – our identity, our relationships, and our sense of meaning. Ess will highlight recent work in the DIGMEX project, as focusing precisely on “the existential terrains” of meaning and memory in a digital era (). Secondly, these existential turns are further consistent with the renaissance of virtue ethics in several contemporary domains, including Information and Computing Ethics, ICT Design, and Digital Religion.
Next, Ess will sketch similar connections with two larger turns. One, several have argued that we have entered a “post-digital” era. A post-digital era does not abandon “the digital,” but rather restores attention to the core roles and significance of embodiment and “the analogue” – explicitly countering Augustinian and Cartesian dualisms defining 1990s’ celebrations of “the bodiless exultation of cyberspace” (Gibson 1984, 6) and contemporary transhumanist dreams of digital immortality. Two, the return of body, existenz, and mortality likewise counter broader Baconian and Cartesian visions of modern science and technology as restoring a Paradise free of labor, pain in childbirth, and death (again defined by the Augustinian reading of Genesis as a “Fall”).
The reappearance of death online thus emerges as a salutary turn away from largely destructive dualisms and the hybris of modern technologies, in favor of confronting our mortality and affirming the goodness of our existenz as embodied beings and the virtues that follow upon these, beginning with loving itself (Ruddick 1975).
Charles Ess is Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo, Norway. He works at the intersections of philosophy, computing, applied ethics, comparative philosophy, and media studies, with specific focus on research ethics, Digital Religion, and virtue ethics in media and communication, specifically social robots.
Ess serves as a research ethics consultant for The VOX-Pol Network of Excellence and the H2020 ICT-project HUMANE. His recent guest positions include Aarhus University (2009-2012), University of Vienna (2013-2014), University Institute of Lisbon, (ISCTE-IUL – 2015, 2016), and the Vienna University of Economics and Business (2016).
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