Many of the discussions about information ethics I’ve had this semester have conflated information ethics with media ethics. Is there a difference between the two or is the conflation natural?
When I use the term media I usually think of television, radio, and print, especially magazines or newspapers. Some properties of media are ephemerality, and political or cultural content. Most of all its mass communication.
I associate information with high technology such as computers or the internet. Information technology seems to be less about politics, less about mass culture, more about business, process, and management.
The difference feels like a difference between mass and everything else. Information technology can be used for mass communication but that use is not inevitable. Radio, television, even newspaper, could be used for individual communication but historically they have ended up being used for communication from one to the many.
The ethical difference may be linked to the many-to-many, one-to-many difference between information technology and media.
I’m frustrated by the common discussion that uses media technology to judge or predict the behavior of information technology. For example, those who condemn television because it decreases our attention span and then go onto condemn computer games or instant messaging for the same reason. The move from media to IT is much more complicated than this.
In one of my classes we recently discussed Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I like Postman’s critique and I think there have been disappointing changes in our public discourse over the last fifty years. I’m even willing to blame television for a lot of the changes.
So what does television tell us about the internet? To me it doesn’t tell us much. The internet is so much more diverse than television ever was that the comparison between the two seems daft. Perhaps this is the problem I have with internet critics such as David Schenk or Sven Birkerts.
There’s no guarantee that the internet will continue to be a countervailing force to the mass media. At the end of our class discussion the instructor asked what we can do as a culture to improve the future. My response was simple: avoid reducing everything on the internet to a market, and don’t fall into the same hierarchical games that plagued us in the past.