- Authority and Power
- Digital Society
- 21st Century Literacy
- Connecting and Collaborating
I will elaborate on each of these briefly:
Civilization has always been about how human beings exercise power and society depends upon our ideas regarding what ideas or institutions hold authority. But our new means of communication prove disruptive to the status quo: amateurs vie with experts to spread or validate ideas, and it is ever easier to challenge authority and to re-arrange power relationships.
2. A Digital Society
Technology and media have always influenced the shape of society and configured the nature of our civilization. But with the rise of the computer, the internet, and all of the digital communication and media that come along with these, we find ourselves in a primarily digital society. Technology and media are not just incidental; they are central to work, commerce, education, art, law, and government. Software and hardware are the infrastructure for contemporary civilization. Without the digital, we would no longer understand what civilization is or how to maintain it.
3. 21st Century Literacy
Reading and writing have been fundamental to the development and maintenance of civilization from antiquity. Social institutions and knowledge to survive and thrive have depended upon literacy. Our central social institutions -- from religion to law to government and education -- have required the cognitive skills and the practical capacities enabled by reading and writing. We are faced now with new media and new social habits that have given preference to other kinds of literacy: computational thinking, visual literacy, media literacy, etc. What constitutes literacy for our current society? Is civilization enhanced or threatened when the written or printed word is amplified or disrupted by the new media?
4. Connecting and Collaborating
Civilization has always depended upon the ability of humans to communicate with one another and to work together. But this has been constrained by location and time in very clear ways that are no longer so clear. We can connect beyond geographical, political, or cultural boundaries. We can collaborate with others both synchronously and asynchronously in highly coordinated and powerful ways -- whether through massive online gaming, crowdsourced open projects, or acts of anonymous cyber sabotage and bullying. Does such connecting and collaborating lead us toward or away from being "civilized"? What are the conditions by which we can build, not tear down, human civilization?
People have always adopted various public and private roles for functioning in society. But public and private are less distinct today; the lines are blurred between the personal and professional. Moreover, we have tools at hand that allow us to magnify, mask, steal, or change our identities. Are we losing who we are as individuals and as a society? And as we are able to find and interact with various interest groups and subcultures, where do our loyalties lie? Do we identify more with our Facebook friends than with our immediate family members? Are we more faithful to those with whom we share digital values than, say, national values? Identity is in play and in flux in our civilization of today. What are the stakes? How will this affect social institutions, individuals, political parties, businesses?