With De­sign in Mind?: “Moral Econ­omy” and Con­tem­po­rary Dig­i­tal Cul­ture


Session Title:

  • Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media

Presentation Title:

  • With De­sign in Mind?: “Moral Econ­omy” and Con­tem­po­rary Dig­i­tal Cul­ture




  • Panel: Without Sin: Taboo and Freedom within Digital Media

    Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion is often char­ac­terised as pro­duc­ing a pop­u­la­tion com­posed of “tempted” bod­ies, cor­rupted de­sires or utopian po­ten­tial dis­torted by un­lim­ited pos­si­bil­ity, and jux­ta­posed to a now-fore­gone sim­pler era and ex­is­tence. Such a moral econ­omy of human ac­tiv­ity is re­flected in the “moral pan­ics” con­jured around dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and the dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects upon users at­trib­uted to them. This paper seeks to ex­plore the re­la­tion be­tween sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence (con­scious­ness) and the con­tem­po­rary en­vi­ron­ment, in par­tic­u­lar, the dis­sem­i­na­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy within mo­bile de­vices, such as lap­tops, tablets and “smart­phones”. Re­cent the­o­ret­i­cal po­si­tions, such as “neu­roan­thro­pol­ogy,” de­lin­eat­ing the “en­cul­tured brain”, ap­pear suited to en­gag­ing dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and their pu­ta­tive con­se­quences: how­ever, the so­ci­o­log­i­cal study of tech­nol­ogy and “tools” also pro­vides a plat­form for such an analy­sis.

    This paper at­tempts to iden­tify the affini­ties and op­po­si­tions be­tween these two dis­courses and their re­spec­tive ex­am­i­na­tions of mo­bile dig­i­tal de­vices through an analy­sis of the “ex­ten­sion” of ex­pe­ri­ence (McLuhan) and the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of our un­der­stand­ing of its neu­ro­log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning. It does so by propos­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence be grasped as a se­ries of in­ter­ac­tions best judged as af­fec­tive phe­nom­ena, rather than events with moral con­se­quences. “Con­scious­ness” is de­scribed as a phe­nom­e­non that is en­acted or in­hab­ited through a di­a­logue with the wider en­vi­ron­ment and, as such, is mod­i­fied through the in­creas­ing pre­pon­der­ance of mo­bile dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and the trans­for­ma­tion of tem­po­ral, spa­tial and in­ter-sub­jec­tive re­la­tions that this af­fords. Con­se­quently the moral econ­omy en­com­pass­ing right/wrong, truth/fal­sity, sa­cred/pro­fane is viewed as an­ti­quated and in­ap­pro­pri­ate in a world where tech­no­log­i­cal free­doms have trans­formed the pos­si­bil­i­ties of sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and its rep­re­sen­ta­tion as iden­tity or iden­ti­ties through web-based media or so­cial media.

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