Digitisation and Homodigitalis

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We seem to be heading into a society where respect is dying. Respect literally means to look back. Respect presupposes a distanced look. On the wings of social media, we are fast emerging into a voyeuristic society. Facebook, Instagram and the like are fast blurring the distance between what was once public and private. We are in a world of spectacle that is cutting the line of the distance between the public and the private. Respect forms the foundation of the public sphere of society. When the former weakens the latter collapses. The decline of the public sphere also means the decline of respect in our society. We can see how with the advent of social media, our society has become abusive. Even prime time on television has thrown respectful and dignified debates about dogs. One who abuses the most emerges as the Sikandar in those debates. Noise seems to have come to acquire a sense of progress.

The private is made public. Intimate matters are put on display. The digital revolution is destroying distance and deference. We cannot wait. we want immediate results. This dwindling of spatial and temporal distance is not without its costs for us. It is fast abolishing our mental distance. Mental distance is required to understand anything. Mental distance is required to question and critique anything. The collapse of this respectful distance seems to get the worst out of us. We have become certainly disrespectful of each other. We do not have any private sphere. There is no zone where I am not an image. There is no hiding place under the sun. Each of us is under a panoptic gaze of surveillance.

Respect in our society is dying fast because respect is intimately tied to names. Social media offer us the possibility of becoming anonymous. This freedom of being nameless offers us the possibility of being abusive. Anonymity also allows fake news and false propaganda. We have entered a post-truth society. Being named is being called to responsibility. Anonymity takes away all responsibility and one can do anything without feeling responsible for one’s actions. With dying respect, ethics and responsibility is dying in our society. This vacuum is filled by outrage. We have become sentimental and express outrage at the slightest provocation. Outbursts of hate, cancel cultures and ritual demonstrations of outrage are seen around us from time to time.

We can see some smart mobs that disrupt public life. They well up abruptly and dissipate quickly. The lack of stability, constancy and consistency that is required for any meaningful civic exchange has disappeared. They intimidate our public sphere and leave without wanting to dialogue with their victims. They ambush, attack and disappear. Outrage society is a scandal Society. Digitisation has led to the death of respect in our society and we have entered what may be called an outraged society. These episodes of outrage are often preyed upon as political capital by the political elites. We have become Homodigitalis. Homodigitalis is anything but nobody. He/she has a profile. He/she uses it as well as hides it. He/she is hankering for attention. He/she is a product of the new attention industry inaugurated by the likes of Facebook. We have the challenge to make the homodigitalis responsible in our society. We need new ethics that will address the new digital revolution.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao