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The ethics of digital being: vulnerability, invulnerability, and “dangerous surprises”

Miller, Vincent (2018) The ethics of digital being: vulnerability, invulnerability, and “dangerous surprises”. In: Digital Existence: Ontology, Ethics and Transcendence in Digital Culture. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-09243-3. E-ISBN 978-1-315-10747-9. (KAR id:65827)


This chapter will engage with the notion that one of the key defining features of digital being, at least in terms of ethical engagement with others via technological interfaces and networks, is a heightened state of both invulnerability and vulnerability. Merleau-Ponty suggested that embodied existence in the world is defined by a stance of vulnerability and the anticipation of ‘dangerous surprises’. In digital existence, I suggest that our continuous, archived, digital presence, distributed in a multitude of networks, archives, databases and servers, opens us up to increased vulnerabilities of which we are only partially aware. These vulnerabilities become more present to us when we hear of, or are the victims of trolling, a data breach, hacking scandal or other form of ‘dangerous surprise’.

This chapter looks in detail at two incidents: the five-year long trolling campaign against Nicola Brookes, and the ‘Ashley Madison hack’ of 2015. Using these examples, this paper will investigate the notion of vulnerability as one way to investigate being in the digital age. I argue that digital being consists of a contradictory stance to the world: of heightened invulnerability in our social encounters with others, alongside a heightened vulnerability to a host of unknown ‘dangerous surprises’. I suggest further that the negotiation of this stance is fundamental to any development of an ethics for the digital age.

Item Type: Book section
Uncontrolled keywords: Data, Privacy, Ethics, Vulnerability, Existential Media, Heidegger, Online Abuse, Cybercrime
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Vince Miller
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2018 14:49 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:52 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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