collective intelligence, collective ethic?

The Boston Marathon explosions unleashed a flood of breaking news on twitter and other social media websites. We are used to this immediate coverage, but still it is striking, how much our technological and medial possibilities have changed within the last 10 years. When my timeline on twitter was already full with posts on the tragedy in Boston, which connected #bostonmarathon with #explosion and #prayforboston, not one single TV station nor news paper had any confirmed news online.Only on twitter, facebook, instagram and other social media websites the news were spread super fast.

Within second various pictures and videos of eye witnesses were posted. This reporting was very individual. Private pictures and shaky videos taken with smartphone cameras where broadcasted around the globe. But it was not only the coverage itself, it was also the solicitousness and sympathy that was shared. Social media is not only about information and the spreading of news, it is more about interconnectedness. The hashtag trend #payforboston was developed. Within a short period of time millions across the world joined in calling for prayer. Shortly after the twitter profile @iprayforboston was set up and gathered more than twenty-nine-thousand-followers.

There was also practical help and other support mechanisms online. A Google Person Finder was set up. A project to assist the search for people or to provide information on those involved in the emergency. Furtheron a Google form was created by The Boston Globe where Boston residents could offer their home to people from out of town who need a place to stay. Fast, immediate and personal reports from the scene and also an identification, solicitousness and support were created through social media.

But the appreciation was quite ambiguous. Some pictures and videos had quite shocking scenes with blood and missing limbs. No one was censuring or curating that information, that was poring down (like it would be possible for a newspaper or a TV station, who are responsible for the pictures they are showing). In the midst of flood of information some facts turned out the be false or embellished (like death counts or suspect descriptions or other assumptions). Some news were spreading fast through social media and most of them were not confirmed. In fact, “unconfirmed” was the word of the day. The 1.0 media rather stayed slower in the coverage, but tried to stick to confirmed news, rather than following fast and unverified twitter information.

But from official sides, social media is not criticized and called into question but rather used and challenged. The Boston police department tweeted out a request for video of the finish line take before and in the aftermath of the explosion in an attempt to determine what happened and who’s responsible.

Breaking news events are inherently confusing, and there’s no way to get it right all the time. And while Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Vine can be very effective at spreading truths and debunking falsehoods, it can just as easily have the opposite effect. Support, solicitousness and symphathy can be offered online and create a network, but it can also get a dangerous twist.

This week I read Murray Jardine’s The making and unmaking of technological society. How Christianity can save modernity from itself. Jardine shows the different steps that lead to a technological society, we live in right now. He enfolds how Christianity enabled and fostered an ethic of progress that led to our technological expertise. At the same time Jardine criticizes that Christians never managed to handle the fast changing technological progress and were not successful to transfer or to reestablish a matching ethic in this condition either.

In his eyes the advance of modern technology is certainly ambiguous. In very provocative arguments Jardine lays down his thoughts. He, for example, ascribes that the social and political outlooks that have guided Western society to this point now, have consistently underestimated human creativity. He connects this in the past with the influence of Greek philosophy (as well as typical pagan mythology) for this underestimation of human creativity. According to Jardine, the Judeo-Christian worldview differs dramatically from this way of thinking. According to this worldview, the universe was spoken into existence by a creative God, not birthed by some natural process according to a predetermined form. Likewise (imago-dei) people have the ability to dramatically shape and change their world and themselves in creative ways.

Some (especially theological) conclusions are hastily made and often Jardine delivers a provocative point but does not do enough to convince the circumspect reader. This leaves me as a rather ambivalent reader. I value his critical writing and though-provoking argument. I really enjoyed his critiques of liberalism, capitalism, communism, and expressive consumerism, but I would have rather appreciated some clear answers and solutions after the long analysis and introduction to the topic.

The solution Jardine is offering leaves me completely unsatisfied. He demands places of faithfulness and places of speech. In his eyes the previous speech-based places where auditory rather than visual communication. In modern times this communication has changed, this is why he pleads for closer societies (practical: local communities, shorter work-weeks and intergenerational care e.g.).

His idea is a smart theoretical concept, but completely out of the ivory-tower and not contemporary. If this model is transferred to the present-day technology we encountered in the Boston marathon incident it provides no solution. Fast global media, large events, plural societies are not applicable to Jardines contept of small and manageable units.

Compared with the technological impact on the Boston marathon incident, I would have favored clear statements on ethics, an assessment of technological pro’s and con’s instead of Jardines one-sided proposition, that we are “incapable of dealing with the forces unleashed by technology.” (p. 235). Instead of a withdrawl from technology and the modern world by focusing on small communities and places of faithfulness and speech, I would have rather yearned for hints how to live as a Christian in this world. Apart from his escapism and denial Jardine offers no references how to rate prayers as a meme in #payforboston or @iprayforboston or the support ideas like the Google form and the Google finder. It is no question of “if”, its rather a question of “how”.

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