ELIANT Conference November 28th, 2017
TOWARDS A HEALTHY DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
Workshop 2, Summary
Christopher Clouder introduced the topic by considering certain phenomena that can be observed in the world today which threaten our humanity. He referred to the book Homo Deus (man a god) by Yuval Noah Harari in which the author warns that if we are not careful the digital world will take over our humanity using the algorithms – lying behind social media, web pages, consumer expectations etc. – that are steadily growing stronger and exerting power in a largely unconscious way over our lives. He also pointed to a delusional aspect of the technology that makes us proud of our ability to manipulate the world and others and gives rise to a feeling of superiority over the human beings of previous ages. He said that it is the innate forces of imagination living in the little child and its capacity for wonder that can help us balance out the negative mechanising effects of technology where everything is calculated and programmed.
Joan Almon then gave a picture of how the digital environment is growing ever closer and more intimate with smart phones and tablets living right at our fingertips. “Computers in watches and eyeglasses abound and threads carrying data are woven into jewellery and clothes. All sorts of medical devices that can be read by computers have crossed the next barrier and exist under our skin, and we are told that this will become ever more common place. Chips inserted into us will identify us, hold our health records and enhance our memories as well as many of our other human capacities. What seemed to be science fiction a decade ago will almost certainly become the new digital reality. Today we are faced with the challenge – and this will become stronger in the future – of helping children to understand what it means to be a human being. Yes, digital technologies can enhance one human trait or another, but the healthy essentials of childhood need to be fostered so that children can know who they are as individuals and how they fit into the wider world. Otherwise, the homogenizing impact of technology will interfere with the individual person's destiny and mission”.
Joan brought some poignant images of children at play and showed how this embodied knowledge helps them to understand the world of humans. She concluded by stating the seven essentials of childhood which the Alliance for Childhood in the U.S. has identified as having a major impact on child development alongside the necessities of life (shelter, clothing, medical care, good nutrition, and a healthy environment). These seven essentials have to do with knowing oneself and growing up surrounded by creativity, resilience, and compassion and they serve as a foundation for human life and for an enduring sense of community.
- Close, loving relationships with responsible adults at home and at school.
- Direct knowledge of the living world of nature.
- Having time everyday for child-initiated play.
- Music, drama, puppetry, dance, painting. and the other arts.
- Hands-on experiences, handcrafts, and other physically engaging activities.
- Rich face-to-face language experiences, including conversation, poetry, storytelling, and books.
- Time and space for children to reflect, create meaning, and experience a sense of the sacred.
Joan pointed out how these healthy essentials are increasingly coming under attack and that their presence in childhood is diminishing. “There are multiple reasons for this but, the uncritical acceptance of digital technology from the first year of life onwards, is a major factor. It is not enough to say, “digital technologies are here to stay.” They are here to stay, but in raising children to become fully human, the healthy essentials of childhood must come first.”
In the discussion which followed the speakers pointed to the importance of ‘first things first’ meaning that real analogue life experiences should come before the virtual. Furthermore the primary focus of the adult's interest should be the child and not the device. A guiding question for parents, grand parents and all those who care for the child is: ‘What do you want the child to remember from being with you?’
Prof. Dr. Edwin Hübner and Alexander Schwedeler