Ethics of Sharing, Adulthood and Online Culture

I have recently written about sharing (halfway down the post) in the context of new experiences producing new configurations of intimacy and estrangement. Cathie McGinn has an interesting and, for me at least, provocative post on her blog about the tension between the public/private distinction and the socio-technical convenience of sharing online. She argues that bad behaviour online is often justified by the trigger of emotional states. This seems logical, most bad behaviour by well-adjusted adults is often due to being upset. I want to propose an alternative to the possible cause of why this is happening.

Rather than being lawless and consequence-free, thus implying that what one does online is of little importance, I suggest the opposite is true. When you write under your own name and write about your own life in such a way to share it with whoever cares to google you, there is a burden of absolute importance placed on what you share. Everything written has to be worthy of your life and the future consequences of your life forever archived in the global google database.

There is ethical challenge here, of having to be worthy of one’s own life and the events that constitute it. It means that if you do want to share, then you’d better live in a way that is worthy of sharing. I believe this is what Cathie meant by everyone living in glass houses. This is not about living an exciting or hedonistic existence, but of living a reflective and satisfying one. Therefore, if there is a trend toward so-called ‘peep culture’, then it is not about the tabloidisation of everyday life into bite-sized titilation of 140char or less, but a far more ethical mode of existence.

Problematic for me is the discourse of adolescence and adulthood that Cathie draws upon to make her point. I have talked about adulthood and this notion of ‘growing up’ in the past. We “grow up online”, she is concerned with the “genuinely awful behaviour performed by otherwise functional adults”, which reminds her of her “giddy immediacy of my teenage years”. I have little time for fuckwits online or off. If people want to carry on like fuckwits online, then the solution is not to barricade their online personas with a firewall of anonymity, but to become better people and stop behaving like fuckwits! LOL! Of course, we have the distinct capacity to emphasise and to care for others in need. Sometimes this means forgiving others for social transgressions, and going to war against bullies with a brilliant fury when they start picking on people. People need to be worthy of the capacities of social communication technologies, rather than sublimating them into their fragile egos.

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