Anonymity and commitment: how do Kierkegaard and Dreyfus fare in the era of Facebook and “post-truth”?
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This paper looks at the situation first described by Dreyfus (Educ Philos Theory 34(4):369–378, 2002) in his seminal paper, in order to find out whether and, if so, to what extent the use of Internet in education is still characterized by anonymity and commitment in today’s social media and ‘post-truth’ era. Current form of web technology provides an occasion for us to rethink what the Press and the Public, two main Kierkegaardian themes, actually consist in. The very ease and rapidity of how information is shared and the blurring of the line between journalists and consumers have made it very difficult to find where the Public actually is so that one can conform one’s own thoughts and beliefs to it. In addition, an effect of social media is that the Public does not seem to be monolithic, but has splintered into many smaller groups, each one overlapping with one another in a highly complex way. In Kierkegaard’s time the Press consisted of nothing more than a rather small number of newspapers, but now we have countless number of sources of information, so much so that it is almost impossible to see where the Press actually is. This situation has a way of diluting Kierkegaard’s contention that it is the Press that anonymized the people, rending them faceless and eliminating their individuality. Furthermore, the effect of Facebook is such that, not only does one still retain much of one’s commitment, but the commitment can be very passionate. As Petrik et al. (Ethics Inf Technol 16:275–284, 2014) have pointed out, it is possible for someone to be passionately committed to something while remaining very active on the Internet. This shows that the direction can go both ways. On the one hand, fragmenting the Public can go along with lack of commitment and other ills that Kierkegaard mentioned. On the other hand, fragmenting the Public, thereby creating many smaller groups existing in the online world (such as Facebook groups) can also bring about specific and well-directed commitments than would be possible if the Public remained a single monolithic entity. Furthermore, Kierkegaard’s insistence on lack of commitment by the Public seems to foretell the current malaise of what is known as ‘post-truth’. For Dreyfus the Internet is ultimately responsible for this. Indeed, however, both lack of commitment and too much commitment seem to be both responsible. A way out of this is proposed where a commitment to rational and critical thought is needed.
KeywordsAnonymity Commitment Kierkegaard Public Press Rationality Education Dreyfus
Research for this paper has been supported in part by a grant by Chulalongkorn University, which allowed me to spend a time at Indiana University Bloomington in October and November 2017 as a visiting research scholar under a mutual agreement by the two universities. I would like to thank Paul Eisenberg for hosting me during my time in Bloomington, as well as Steve Jones and Jillana Enteen, who have been very kind hosts in Chicago area during my visit there too. Last but not least, I would like to thank the anonymous reviews of AI & Society who have saved me from many errors.
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