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Proposals to Better Serve Policies

Conceptual Shifts with Policy-relevant Consequences for a Good Onlife Governance

4.1 The Relational Self

§ 4.1 It is one of the paradoxes of modernity that it offers two contradictory accounts of what the self is about. On the one hand, in the political realm, the self is deemed to be free, and “free” is frequently understood as being autonomous, disembodied, rational, well-informed and disconnected: an individual and atomistic self. On the other hand, in scientific terms, the self is an object of enquiry among others and, in this respect, is deemed to be fully analysable and predictable. By focusing on causes, incentives, or disincentives in an instrumental perspective, this form of knowledge often aims at influencing and controlling behaviours, on individual and collective levels. Hence, there is a constant oscillation between a political representation of the self, as rational, disembodied, autonomous and disconnected, on the one hand, and a scientific representation of the self, as heteronomous, and resulting from multifactorial contexts fully explainable by the range of scientific disciplines (social, natural and technological).

§ 4.2 We believe that it is time to affirm, in political terms, that our selves are both free and social, i.e., that freedom does not occur in a vacuum, but in a space of affordances and constraints: together with freedom, our selves derive from and aspire to relationships and interactions with other selves, technological artefacts, and the rest of nature. As such, human beings are “free with elasticity”, to borrow an economic notion. The contextual nature of human freedom accounts both for the social character of human existence, and the openness of human behaviours that remain to some extent stubbornly unpredictable. Shaping policies in the remit of the Onlife experience means resisting the assumption of a rational disembodied self, and instead stabilising a political conception of the self as an inherently relational free self.

4.2 Becoming a Digitally Literate Society

§ 4.3 The utopia of omniscience and omnipotence often entails an instrumental attitude towards the other, and a compulsion to transgress boundaries and limits. These two attitudes are serious hurdles for thinking and experiencing public spheres in the form of plurality, where others cannot be reduced to instruments, and where selfrestraint and respect are required. Policies must build upon a critical investigation of how human affairs and political structures are deeply mediated by technologies. Endorsing responsibility in a hyperconnected reality requires acknowledging how our actions, perceptions, intentions, morality, even corporality are interwoven with technologies in general, and ICTs in particular. The development of a critical relation to technologies should not aim at finding a transcendental place outside these mediations, but rather at an immanent understanding of how technologies shape us as humans, while we humans critically shape technologies.

§ 4.4 We have found it useful to think of re-evaluating these received notions and developing new forms of practices and interactions in situ in the following phrase: “building the raft while swimming”.

4.3 Caring for Our Attentional Capabilities

§ 4.5 The abundance of information, including “big data” developments, induce major shifts in conceptual and practical terms. Earlier notions of rationality presumed that accumulating hard-won information and knowledge would lead to better understanding and thereby control. The encyclopaedic ideal is still around, and the focus remains primarily on adapting our cognitive capacities by expanding them in hopes of keeping up with an ever-growing infosphere. But this endless expansion is becoming ever less meaningful and less efficient in describing our daily experiences.

§ 4.6 We believe that societies must protect, cherish and nurture humans' attentional capabilities. This does not mean giving up searching for improvements: that shall always be useful. Rather, we assert that attentional capabilities are a finite, precious and rare asset. In the digital economy, attention is approached as a commodity to be exchanged on the market place, or to be channelled in work processes. But this instrumental approach to attention neglects the social and political dimensions of it, i.e., the fact that the ability and the right to focus our own attention is a critical and necessary condition for autonomy, responsibility, reflexivity, plurality, engaged presence, and a sense of meaning. To the same extent that organs should not be exchanged on the market place, our attentional capabilities deserve protective treatment. Respect for attention should be linked to fundamental rights such as privacy and bodily integrity, as attentional capability is an inherent element of the relational self for the role it plays in the development of language, empathy, and collaboration. We believe that, in addition to offering informed choices, the default settings and other designed aspects of our technologies should respect and protect attentional capabilities.

§ 4.7 In short, we assert that more collective attention should be paid to attention itself as a inherent human attribute that conditions the flourishing of human interactions and the capabilities to engage in meaningful action in the onlife experience.

This Manifesto is only a beginning…

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