This article is inspired by a conversation between me and a person who decided ‘to take some time off’ from modern communication. I was arguing that it is not fair, because I can only contact this person via Internet and texting because she is far away, arguing that people in her real-life could still meet her. I was arguing – in a more jokingly way – that it would hurt my ‘digital dignity’ that I am excluded from her life just because I can only use the means of modern communication to contact her. This made me think about some things and if these things can be converted into a digital counterpart because it did not hurt my real dignity.
Before we invent something new, let us first have a look at what ‘dignity’ in reality mean. Though being a political scientist I am not going down the road of a philosophical explanation also because I think it would take me like weeks to explain it. What does our loved and hated Wikipedia say about dignity?
‘Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to respect and ethical treatment […] Dignity is generally proscriptive and cautionary: in politics it is usually synonymous to ‘human dignity’, and is used to critique the treatment of oppressed and vulnerable groups and peoples, though in some case has been extended to apply to cultures and sub-cultures, religious beliefs and ideals, animals used for food or research, and even plants. In more colloquial settings it is used to suggest that someone is not receiving a proper degree of respect, or even that they are failing to treat themselves with proper self-respect.’ (Wikipedia on Dignity)
The bottom-line is that dignity means being treated with respect and according to ethical standards no matter who or what you are. Well, that is something we can work with.
Now, let us go to the ‘digital’ in ‘digital dignity’. Reading my blog for some time, you should already have an impression on what my understanding of cyberspace is. In my opinion, even though it is you who is acting in cyberspace, you develop some sort of second ego while being in cyberspace. Not all the people, not even a lot but some. The people who play online games, use forums and messengers tend sometimes to act different to what they would have acted in real life. They use nicknames and sometimes never show any detail from their real life. It can be a safe haven, a totally different world – even though you should not forget to drink and eat in real life. An my point here is that this digital ego (maybe a topic for next weeks article) has a separate dignity. Of course this dignity also affects the real person on the computer to a certain degree but the first line of defense is the digital persona. Let me give a brief example. You are active in a certain forum for years under a nickname. You develop a reputation under that nickname and a some point you might make a lot of people dislike/ hate you. All you have to do now is to wipe you forum account. Of course you feel personally hurt but after creating a new account under another name, you are some else. You digital ego altered slightly. Behavior might be the same but appearance and name are different.
Thus, when I am talking about the digital dignity I mean the respect and ethical treatment towards one (or more) of my digital egos. The lead-in was one example. My digital dignity is not respected because it is viewed as not being real. That digitally hurts! Another example might be two digital egos which insult each other in an online game, always. Then there comes the time that these two people meet in real-life. As long as they do not wear nerdy-shirts which state their nickname they would not realize each other and therefore treat each other different as no dignity would be hurt. But once they are back online, they will continue their eternal fight to argue whose virtual character has been more waste of lifetime… I mean which one is better.
Consequently, the digital dignity is something which is linked to the digital ego but also to the real-life ego. It affects both. Therefore, we will discover next week, what the digital ego can be.