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Questioning our role in digital media

Agency and Ethics

Maria Dubecki
Congress 2012 Correspondent

What agency and ethical responsibility do we carry when we join online networks, observe photos, buy videogames, or reinvent ideas? As we rapidly head deeper into the digital era, the realities of media and communication force such a question – a question that was explored in a Wednesday morning panel organized by the Canadian Communication Association.

Under the panel title Agency and Ethics: Media and Communications in the Digital Era, four PhD candidates approached this broad topic through the unique focuses of their individual research.

First, Guy Hoskins presented his study of the online activist network Avaaz. Within his presentation, Hoskins proposed that networks such as Avaaz put members in a somewhat complicated position where they are both individuals and involved in group solidarity. Next, Joey Brooke Jakob’s presentation concerned “Spectacles of Suffering” – specifically, war photos from the 9/11 decade – and the problems that arise when people observe photos without addressing context. Daniel Joseph examined crowd sourced fundraising sites such as Kickstarters  in relation to videogames and Canada’s cultural policy. And closing the panel presentations,  Joseph F. Turcotte briefly discussed his position that digital media technology is overcoming Intellectual Property laws and giving rebirth to a relational creativity, where ideas spring off from each other to create new ideas.

Although each presenter’s allotted time was brief – really, the topics were so stimulating that I could have listened to each talk for an hour instead of just a 15 minute summary – the panel sparked an engaging question period. Particularly, listeners revisited Jakob’s presentation to discuss whether those who view spectacles of suffering and feel sympathy continue to take agency and intervene in the stranger’s suffering. From the conversation that ensued, it seemed we might want media to inspire this sort of ethical agency, but we’re not certain it always does.

While the question period was cut short by time, I continued to contemplate the subject of agency and ethics in digital media well into the day. Advancements in technology and communications, it seems, have presented us with a crossroads. We now have a growing digital power both as individuals and collectives, but what will we do with it? At the risk of sounding corny I think I have to quote Spiderman and say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Panel Presenters and Paper Titles:
Harnessing the Democratic Potential of ‘Distanced Immobilities’: Evaluating as a Transnational Public Sphere
Guy T. Hoskins (York University)

Spectacles of Suffering: The Anguished Body as News in The 9/11 Decade
Joey Brooke Jakob (Ryerson and York Universities)

Play Policy: The Role of Ontario Cultural Policy in Contemporary Videogame Development
Daniel Joseph (Ryerson University)

Show Me the Copy! How Digital Media Technologies (Re)Assert Relational Creativity and Complicate Intellectual Property Rights
Joseph F. Turcotte (York University)

Image courtesy of she was on Flickr