The emancipation of authorship (Miroshnichenko, 2013) has led to an exponential growth in the number of information sources. Anyone who goes online is immediately inundated with huge amounts of information, more than a human being could previously absorb in a lifetime. This information glut results in overload and emotional exhaustion. Hanging out on the Internet is rapidly approaching full-time employment in terms of the amount of time and resources spent and the level of participation demanded by information sources.
Humankind has no experience interacting with this number of self-appointed sources of information. In the pre-digital world, the number of sources was strictly limited, the appearance of new sources was regulated, and they only provided information approved by the elites.
The number of authors who could distribute socially significant information or their personal opinion beyond their physical environment hardly exceeded 300 million in the entire course of human history. In a historically short period, the number of such authors increased almost tenfold, so that now 3.4 billion people with online access have the technical capacity for authorship.
All of them provide information in one form or another. Even those who do not write texts can “like,” “share,” and “repost” information, and thereby contribute to information selection, assessment, and distribution. This is not unlike the work of media editors, who select, assess, and publish information. Together with “solid authorship,” which produces proactive or reactive content, this “lazy authorship” (assessment, editing, and distribution of content) is creating a planetary ecosystem with self-growing information, similar to the concept of the noosphere developed by Édouard Le Roy, Teilhard de Chardin, and Vladimir Vernadsky in the 1920s – 1930s.
In the past, the task of producing social content was assigned to specific institutions (mass media played this role best of all). But in the Internet age, the ability to produce and distribute social content has become accessible not only to institutional producers of information, but also to a huge network of users. The new environment of emancipated authorship stripped the mass media of its monopoly over content production and distribution. Millions are now taking advantage of this opportunity, but they are also suffering from it, because the new network environment is eroding the old institutional mechanisms of authority and authorization.
The emancipation of a human’s right to authorship appears to be progressive and positive on the surface, but it also entails many negative consequences, from the growth of reactionary sentiments, archaic beliefs, and terrorism to the psychological frustration of huge masses of people who are not used to facing a barrage of personal opinions expressed publicly and without restriction and authorization. This is why there is scope for media ecology to contribute to the promotion of media hygiene.
Hygiene, in itself, aims to exploit the favourable effects of an environment and to neutralize its possible harm. Since the digital environment consists of algorithms and other humans, digital hygiene can be divided into “technical” and “social” hygiene. “Technical” hygiene in the digital environment includes the prevention of malfunction/breakdown of technical mediums and interfaces and protection against technical malware, such as computer viruses, spam and the like. “Social” hygiene includes the organization of correct interaction with algorithms and people in the digital environment. “Social” digital hygiene can apply social communication and info-consumption skills in the digital environment. This is what media hygiene is all about. In fact, media hygiene amounts to the practice of media ecology in people’s everyday lives.
The goals of media hygiene include:
- Enhancement of personal and public tolerance for a plurality of unsanctioned sources.
- Ability to filter out lies and deceptions.
- Personal responsibility for the level of trust that can be assigned to external sources of information.
Media hygiene relates to both time management and anger management. Like other forms of hygiene, media hygiene presupposes that people should be aware of sanitation rules and protection mechanisms, and should learn how to use these mechanisms to protect their mental health and personal peace.
But first, we should learn the workings of the new environment and expose the inaccuracy of certain dangerous myths. The main myth that prevents people from becoming appropriately incorporated into new realities is the myth about the Internet as a dump. Those who believe this myth also seem to subconsciously suspect the immorality of using the Internet, which then breeds a guilt complex, a feeling of time wasted, and other negative feelings.
If we consider the practice of content posting, it is true that the Internet can be compared to a dump. Anything can be posted online, but not everything is distributed further or finds its users. In reality, no one consumes garbage, or else users would die of poisoning. It is true that any content can be produced and posted online, but it is streamlined at the stage of consumption.
Three types of filters have naturally appeared in the digital environment, which can, with proper settings, maintain high standards of users’ media hygiene. Without them, no one would be able to use the Internet.
The three levels of filters that protect users’ mental health by sifting through online content include:
- Browser settings,
- The Viral Editor, and
- Relevance algorithms.
Excerpted from: Andrey Miroshnichenko. “Media Ecology as Ecology Contrariwise: Protecting Humans from the Digital Environment”. Systema: connecting matter, life, culture and technology. Vol 3, No 1 (2015): Special Issue: Media Ecology. Guest Editor Robert Logan