The Digital Ego

What does it mean to grow and flourish, together, in a digital age?

 

You can read a detailed overview of the Digital Ego project here.

Read Tom Chatfield’s essay ‘Finding Virtue in the Virtual’ here.

Read Dan Nixon’s essay ‘What is this? The case for continually questioning our online experience’ here.

 

The Digital Ego project is concerned with what it means to be free, to grow and to flourish in the digital age. Our starting point is an open-ended belief in humans’ potential for individual and collective growth and self-understanding. Through the lens of the ego, we ask what it means to align technology with this freedom and flourishing; to map virtue onto the virtual aspects of our lives; and to speak more richly and meaningfully about our lived experiences of technology.

Technology is implicated in every aspect of contemporary life, and in our deepest collective and individual problems: of personal identity and social cohesion; of manipulation, disinformation and authoritarianism; of environmental degradation and global inequality. It isn’t the problem, or the solution. But it does define the context within which solutions must exist.

The Digital Ego project seeks to speak at a systematic level to technology’s mediation of modern life, asking what narratives and frames can connect personal experience to the global picture; can find virtue in the virtual realm; and can place a properly understood sense of self and soul at the heart of our mediated lives. It does so by calling for dialogue and action across five domains:

Inquiring into what it means to be free in the digital era.

How can we be free to move, to grow and to flourish at a time when many of us feel increasingly “stuck” within algorithmic systems that place us in particular boxes and encourage lowest common denominator behaviours? The answer blends political liberty with an ongoing vigilance towards our deeper needs – for genuinely open-minded exchange, for contemplation, for compassion.

Offering an invitation to community – to reclaiming a fuller sense of “we” for the digital era.

Via the lens of the ego, we advocate for a shared endeavour of growth and self-realisation that respects individual needs for expression, becoming and belonging while challenging narratives that are premised around division and an “Us vs Them” mentality. In our fragmented times, this means working together to re-expand the domain of shared experience, embracing richer accounts of what “connection” can look like in the digital arena.

Challenging the mindset of optimisation engrained in tech.

Principles of efficiency and optimisation can help us further some goals, but faith in them as a general “life philosophy” is misplaced. To become “unstuck” and recentre ourselves around forms of growth that matter, we need to let go of a fixation upon speed for its own sake, and to rethink unexamined assumptions about both the nature of progress and technology’s role in determining it.

Insisting upon the connections between the domains of systems, souls and society.

We are committed to an integrated and cross-level understanding, rather than presenting a purely analytical framework or a top-down expert intervention. As we look at what it means to grow and flourish through the lenses of technology and identity, it will be vital to root this in a plurality of contexts, ranging across psychological, spiritual, political, societal and ecological domains.

Proposing a meta-ethical framework for understanding human flourishing in the digital context.

Our approach is grounded in virtue ethics, together with a close attentiveness to lived and felt experience. We seek to push debates about human/tech relations towards framings open to the positive affordances of the digital era while safeguarding what is implied by “human growth and change” in a sense algorithmic optimisation cannot capture. 


The project is led by Tom Chatfield and Dan Nixon