What problems arise when our technological capabilities grow so fast that they extend beyond the realm of our moral infrastructure? Mitchell explores the question by delving into the intricacies of our increasingly cybernetic and interconnected world. While discussing the "Victorian moral philosopher" [Mitchell 204] Henry Sidgwick, Mitchell exposes a sentiment which creates an interesting conundrum when applied to modern times:
Implicate in Sidgwick's argument is the idea that moral obligation to one's fellow human beings rapidly diminishes with distance. In Sidgwick's world, parents, spouse, and children were likely to be very close at hand — probably in the same house. Other relatives, neighbors, and friends formed a wider geographic circle — mostly in the same town. Fellow-countrymen constituted a wider circle still, and those of other countries were very distant: the black people of Tasmania were a voyage of many months away. Casual racism aside, Sidgwicks analysis made considerable practical sense. Social groups and communities were largely place-based, and webs of mutual aid attenuated as they spread out from their centers, so it was reasonable enough to argue that obligation did as well. You had many obligations to those with whom you interacted with intensely, over extended periods, but fewer to those with whom your interactions were limited or blocked by the impatience (some would say the tyranny) of distance [Mitchell 204-205]
1. According to Mitchell, due to increased interconnectivity through technology like the internet, the concept of distance is disappearing. How then, are our moral obligations affected?
2. Do you agree with Mitchell that that interconnectivity has killed the concept of distance? Explain.
3. If cyberspace and real space continue to combine, what changes do you foresee occurring in the next few decades?
4. How do you think government and religion, as prime regulators of society, will react to the changes stated in question three.
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 11 September 2006