"Unwired" for Compassion? The Ethics of Care, Civility and Citizenry in the Global, Digital World

Donna M. Schaeffer, PhD and Jane Uebelhoer, PhD
School of Business Administration, Marymount University,
2807 North Glebe Road, Arlington VA 22207
Email contact: donna.schaeffer@marymount.edu and jane.uebelhoer@marymount.edu

(Source: wikimedia.org)

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

The Internet facilitates our ability to maintain a wide array of connections . . .

  • On May 11, 2010 at 2:45 GMT 22,054,232 peope were skyping to one another (Source: www.aytech.com/skypestatistics)
  • Skype is the largest international voice carrier (Source: Network World, 25 March, 2009)
  • "We have seen an increase in the past few days in terms of video-calling because of the situation," a Skype spokesman told AFP on Monday (Source: The Swedish Wire, 20 April, 2010)
  • Sent vouchers to every Skype user already registered in Haiti � enough to make an hour�s worth of calls to the U.S (Source: ComputerWorld, January 19, 2010)

(Image source: www.skype.com)

  • 48,278,465 unique visitors in March, 2010 (Source: Steamanalytics)
  • Craigslist, after Katrina, became a forum for finding the missing and housing (Source: Christoper Lydon podcast, 07 September, 2005)
  • Craigslist provided a list of recommended charitable relief organizations ater the Haiti earthquake

Couches available for travelers stranded by volcano (Bushwick, near JFK off the J, M trains) Date: 2010-04-17, 2:32PM EDT If you are a traveler and have been stranded by the volcano � [We have] three couches and plenty of floor space available within close proximity to the airport. No money necessary, we just ask for quiet, reasonable people who don't have too many belongings. We are a collective of artists living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, only about a half an hour from JFK off the J or M train lines and a number of busses. We are friendly, interesting people and are always willing to help out others if the need is there. We are travelers ourselves, and know what it's like to be stranded in foreign lands � Thanks and merry travels to you! (Source Craiglist.org)

  • More than 400 million active users (Source: Facebook)
  • About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States (Source: Facebook)
  • hundreds of thousands of people signed up to awareness groups, such as Earthquake Haiti, which offers a link to Oxfam's Haiti relief fund.(Source: BBC)

  • ". . . My cousin named Samoa, in Modesto, Calif., contacted me on Facebook to ask if I would pick up Opi, his 64-year-old father, who lives on the mountain above the coastal village of Leone, and bring him to my house. So I loaded the children into the car and drove over there. But Opi could not think of leaving his beloved Leone. I listened intently as he told the story of his day." Excerpted from"The Day of the Tsunami." b Sia Figiel, New York Times, October 1, 2009, page A27.

  • The Ethics of Care:

    Noddings (1984) distinguished between "caring for" and "caring about."

    Caring for happens in face-to-face encounters in which one person directly cares for another.

    Caring about is described as "One acknowledges.One affirms. One contributes five dollars and goes on to other things."

    "The distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don't really care about."

    Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University in The Calculus of Friendship.

    "iPhones, Twitter, and Facebook have made comfort zones portable. Our cell phones work on the top of Machu Picchu. The world is shrinking. "

    Joel Patteron, Surfer, September, 2009.

    Will someone listening to an iPod and walk by another human in critical need of assistance?

    Our "higher" faculties - reason and judgment -- depend on our senses to call them into play. Little kids plug their ears, squeeze their eyes shut and sing loudly to block out unwanted input.

    Where's the line between the morally permissible and impermissible? Where is the floor, my minimum obligation? What would a virtuous person do? What sort of example should we set?

    When can we say - to hell with it. There's too much distress, too much misery, if I'm always entering sympathetically into everyone else's suffering then there is twice the suffering. When can we say - I'm out of here.

    In my zone, in my head, in my fantasy future, in my music. Can we just throw our hands up and concede defeat to our high tech dystopia? Can I pull my circle of care tight around myself like a cocoon, a shroud, and only concern myself with the well being of one or two other people?

    Or does the Internet extend our circle of care?

    If such images become easy to access and are available 24/7, might we develop an indifference to the vision of human suffering? Studies have found that social networking sites such as Twitter result in streams of information that overwhelm the brain to the point where it becomes difficult to truly embrace the complexity of situations.

    "The Net-Gen is plugged in, moving at Internet speed, and open-minded because they are coming into contact with so much information and so many different people from different places. The world is truly open to them and for them. The Net-Gen is ready to make social change happen. Are activist organizations ready for them?" Allison Fine in Momentum: Igniting Social change in the Connected Age, 2006.