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July 26, 2008

Hyperlinked Society book now online

The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age, edited by Joseph Turow and Lokman Tsui, is now available in full online. It’s an anthology of essays about hyperlinks and society by a great collection of folks. (And then there’s my contribution, which argues that the Internet is good — what a surprise! — because the hyperlinked architecture of the Web mirrors the architecture of morality itself.)

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May 27, 2008

Moral games

Gene Koo sets up the problem: We are wired to react morally to the people we see, but we have trouble extending that to people at a distance. Yet, we have to broaden our moral embrace if we are to make it through another century. So, Gene wonders whether games might help:

Computer games offer at least two possible responses to our collective human predicament. First, they can open players’ eyes to the moral implications of systems by experimenting with them and witnessing the results. Games might offer moments of reflection and of epiphany, connecting personal morality with systemic awareness. A player might see how tweaking health care policies affects a family’s lives, or how environmental regulation could shape the destiny of a polar bear. Games might lead people to begin to see a soul within the machine.

And perhaps systems might begin to learn lessons from game design. Why must the computer systems that exercise more and more control over our daily lives be morally inert? If computer games — mere software — can lead players to weep, perhaps the mechanization of our world needn’t be soulless…

Gene’s not saying that games will save us. He’s suggesting that morally designed games might help.

So, before you point to all the games that seem to abrade our conscience — Grand Theft Auto, just about every first person shooter ever made, even PacMan if you look at it from the point of view of the dots — you might want to note that The Sims has sold 100 million copies.

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May 8, 2008

Open vs. closed disasters

I’ve taken the title of Sharon Richardson’s post at JoiningDots because it’s so apt. She writes:

What’s weird from an information and context perspective is how remote this disaster feels, compared to other events such as the Tsunami, Hurrican Katrina and Sept 11th. (A similar effect happend with the earthquake in Pakistan.) Is that because Burma is such a closed society, meaning there are very few first-hand on-the-spot-as-it-happens pictures and videos? Research has proven that people connect more when shown a specific story rather than massive (no matter how scary) statistics. The tsunami also occured in a region with strict controls. Perhaps having a tourist spot complete with Westerners and their camcorders helped.

Maybe a more evolved consciousness would be unaffected by the particular stories and the particular videos, for rationally we know that the disaster is a disaster whether or not there happens to be film at 11. Or maybe our atavistic reaction to personal stories is a necessary part of our being moral creatures … so long as we still make the donation even when, in the absence of stories, only pure reason moves us .

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