March 15-17th, 2018, Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice (CAPP) Foundation and Fordham University co-sponsored the Dublin Process Consultation Meetings with the theme “An Ethical Compass for the Digital Age”. The goal of the Dublin Process was to define, in practical terms, the role of ethics and Catholic Social Teaching in today’s economy.Business and professional leaders gathered together with academic economists and experts on Catholic Social Teaching to discuss the topic in depth. The following speech was shared by Fordham IPED student, James Duke (’19) during the Dublin Process.
Growing up in the advent of the digital age, I was enveloped by a sense of wonder at the widening potential of world-making. I spent the hours of my early youth being transported across the world through the internet, and I believe that this widening of what is possible across what were previously seen as impenetrable differences, has at its core values of compassion, empathy, and loving thy neighbor as thyself. As was noted yesterday, these formative experiences of being raised in the digital era have left many my age with a desire for their work to be at its core, meaningful.
On the other hand, I have witnessed and experienced myself the potent force technology has in deconstructing one’s sense of self. Individuals are able to compartmentalize their identity though online behavior, and among my peers there is an increasing recognition that the online self is a curated, ideal, and even phony form of self. So, the transition to the digital era has been a transition of un-belonging and questioning of what it means to be human. But I have also seen my peers and other young people grappling over this problem, whether it is in everyday conversations or art, like the TV show Black Mirror.
I do believe that the ethical dilemmas of this new online world are perhaps heightened at this early stage due to the neutral view of consumers—and especially young consumers—that their mobile devices are forms of prostheses, mere augmentations of reality. If the sort of regulations discussed yesterday are enacted, they could unveil to consumers the extent of data being collected, and how much money their data is worth in sales to advertisers. This unveiling of the hidden price mechanism could transform the topography of the online world in the minds of consumers in such a way that they will then pursue more fully the sort of ethical questions we have been discussing here, or will begin to see the economic and entrepreneurial possibilities of a future restructuring of the system.
I also believe that the cultural and psychological crises incited by the digital era seem more extreme to those who have witnessed the change; and for the record, I include myself in that group. If the Church is proactive in infusing Catholic Social Teachings into the discourses and media of the digital age, the leaders of the generation who know no other language will be the most organic translators. I believe these leaders will envelop into this language the sort of radical compassion, empathy, and co-belonging I felt the internet allowed in my formative years.
If it is indeed already too late to correct the transformation, the discussions already happening among youth on the harms of technology —in their literature, art, and discourses—will compel them to search for meaning elsewhere. Why can the Church not also be waiting for them there?
With regards to the “next billion” adopters of digital technology, the next billion are not only poor, they are religious and entrepreneurial. I witnessed this while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. The out-of-school youth with whom I worked used social media in a way that was almost unintelligible to me, in that it was overtly entrepreneurial, and at times, overtly religious. If regulations and restructuring of the profits of the digital era are successful, the next billion—and those who support income equality—have much to gain.
And if I may, I would like to end with an anecdote. While home in Virginia, I spoke with childhood friends about our fears with regard to virtual reality, which is a technology that really does put into question what reality is, and what it means to be human. My friend then told me of a project she had begun to help on. It is called the Family Reunions Project, and it harnesses the power of virtual reality technology to reunite those separated from family and loved ones by the refugee and migration crises. One of the co-founders is Guatemalan American and grew up in New York. His father had not been able to return home for over 15 years. The image of his father standing in their New York City apartment with a virtual reality headset on, holding out his hand to shake that of a childhood friend still located in Guatemala whom he had not seen for over a decade, is an image of community and belonging that gives me hope for the future of the digital era.
James Duke II ’19 is an MA Candidate in International Political Economy and Development at Fordham University.