This book is an investigation of ethical aspects of computer-mediated communication (or CMC). In it I sort through some important ethical issues that are raised by the prospect of a mediated, textual, social world. I do so by posing and answering a series of questions. How is personal identity manifested (or constructed) in text? Can we know what others are feeling if we communicate with them via CMC? Can we engage in dialogue with others in CMC? Can we act on or with others in CMC? How are computer-mediated (CM) friendships and political relations valuable, and what are their limitations? I explore the ethical possibilities and limitations imposed by the wide geographic reach and textuality of CMC, and consider how the medium sustains or alters social relations, particularly friendships and political relations.
CMC has been available as an institutional and personal communication technology for well over a decade, and has been becoming more widely available ever since its inception. It is particularly popular in the US, where computer networking was pioneered, and is increasingly popular elsewhere. The reasons for its adoption in public, academic and institutional contexts are frequently managerial decisions based on considerations of efficiency, productivity and profit, but the social advantages of CMC are also cited by many people. 1 CMC is claimed to bring many benefits, social and personal, in fields ranging from political action and formation of friendships, to therapeutic discussion and education access.
The value of being able to maintain contact with familiar distant others, and to establish new contact with unknown distant others are two of the major social benefits that people cite for CMC. Further, the organisation of social fora such as mailing lists and discussion groups allows groups of people to keep in touch with each other when they would otherwise be limited from so doing by the time required to engage with participants individually. The comparative novelty of CMC, and the cachet attached to that novelty, no doubt add to the use of CMC, for some people, a particular pleasure not associated with other forms of mediated communication such as telephone conversation.
While social interaction across the panoply of particular personal affiliations, impersonal crowd gatherings, role-based work relations, and political negotiations has been the traditional ground of ethics, the advent of CMC has prompted a renewed investigation into the nature and value of forms of human association. A