Constitution Day Part 1

Dr. Rhianna Rogers, Mentor, SUNY Empire State College

October 3, 2019

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We will be publishing this article in two parts. Part Two coming 10/17)

In observance of Constitution and Citizenship Day, SUNY Empire State College hosted the Deliberative Conversation titled “What Should Go on the Internet? Privacy, Freedom & Security Online- A Joint Conversation,” on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at six campuses around the state.

What are Deliberative Conversations?

Deliberative Conversations at SUNY Empire grew out of a partnership between the college’s Division of Student Affairs and the Buffalo Project. These conversations are an effort to increase cultural awareness, interaction and discussion among students, faculty, and staff around difficult topics. The uniqueness of the Deliberative Conversations format is that it is meant to intentionally bring together individuals who represent diverse perspectives around a topic; sometimes difficult or controversial, to advocate for tangible, joint solutions that give a voice to all invested in the conversation.

What is Constitution Day?

From the Library of Congress: “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is observed each year on September 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and ‘recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.’”

  1. Rogers Framing Discussion – Is the Internet Safe?
  2. Privacy issues: We see that many websites have privacy settings, but what does it really mean? Who controls what you post online and where is it stored temporarily and forever? When does our personal information become public? What data collection is acceptable?
  3. Protection of vulnerable populations (children and others): How can you ensure that someone online is as old as they say they are and prevent children from seeing bad things? What about individuals with disabilities or speakers of other languages…how does the internet help or hurt them?

The digital age has fundamentally transformed many facets of the human experience, including how we communicate, the platforms we seek out for entertainment, and how we engage in learning. The rapid rate at which learners are acquiring and building new knowledge today is something scholars are only starting to understand and analyze. So how does that connect to the Internet? Webster’s Dictionary defines the Internet as “an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world” (Webster’s Online Dictionary, 2019). Studying the internet is neither the history of technology nor the study of computerization, but rather an interdisciplinary look at what has come to be known as “virtual life” – i.e., lives lived online and facilitated by the Internet. Digital scholars concern themselves with the analysis of computerized devices (smartphones for example), but more importantly, we concern ourselves with what happens when computerized devices become the core tools of our daily lives. In many cases, they act as the main vehicles for many, if not all, of our cultural interactions. Digital scientists and researchers reflect on these ideas and interpret how we (consumers) use technology as well as how our use changes/influences our current behaviors, norms and lived experiences. Studying the internet allows academics to better understand how our “humanness” has evolved to incorporate and, many times, depend on multiple networked devices (e.g., phone apps, computers/tablets, digital platforms like Hulu and Netflix, social media, and the internet) to create and reshape how we think, conduct our work, develop our personal, professional, and romantic lives, express our creativity, buy our homes and forge our friendships. The way we rely on computerized devices in some ways has changed how we are utilizing our own senses, intelligences, cultural perceptions, actions/behaviors, and even our bodies in ways that did not exist just a few decades ago. This is not to say that it is good or bad, just a drastic change in human behaviors; so much so that it is imperative that we study it and understand where society is heading. Given this premise, conversations about the internet and its need for analysis and contextualization are critical; hence the reason for the deliberative conversation held on Sept. 17th. It is through these types of deliberative conversations that we try to figure out the ramifications of said changes and propose solutions. When we reflect on our use of the internet, many questions begin to emerge, such as: Do we behave differently on- and off-line? Does privacy truly exist online? Who controls and owns our information? Are we really safe? Digital Anthropology Pioneer, Dr. Michael Welsh suggested that these rapid changes in digital behaviors will cause us to rethink things like relationships, copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetoric, governance, privacy, commerce, love, family, and ultimately ourselves (Welsh, Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us, 2007). With each new iteration of the internet (we are about to transition into Web 5.0) we should be asking ourselves regularly “What Should Go on the Internet?”

National Issues Forum Guiding Document and Discussion Outcomes

Prior to attending this session, participants were asked to read a shared document from National Issues Forums (NIF) titled “What Should Go on the Internet?” In this guiding document, there were 3 topics of discussion posed: 1) Protect Individual Privacy; 2) Promote Freedom of Speech and Commerce, and 3) Security from Online Threats. More than 50 students, faculty, and staff from around the state attended this event and engaged in this conversation. Below is a summary of our questions to each other during the conversation:

Questions to Consider for Topic #1: Protecting Individual Privacy

Questions to Consider for Topic #2: Promote Freedom of Speech and Commerce

  • Who controls technology....us, companies, or does it control itself? People forget that someone invented the technology we use. This means that even machines and technology have a human element. However, machines and technology cannot yet think on their own (though we have some artificial intelligence starting to enter the market, like Google Assistant). That said, how do we make sure we are teaching "the Internet" the right information? Do you believe that we allow technology to control us? Do we give it to much power over our lives? For example, why do we trust one website over another? How do we know that it is "safe" for our families/ourselves/others we care about? Should there be limits on what we can do online?

Questions to Consider for Topic #3: Secure Us From Online Threats

  1. Are we safe online? Why do we trust certain websites with our personal information (e.g. Facebook with our personal photos and Twitter with our short personal tweets.) Do we still own these photos and thoughts or can Facebook/Twitter use them their promotional materials and/or can they negative impact us in the future? Have you checked your ownership of your own information online?

COMING IN PART TWO:

Creating Joint Solutions – Conversation Outcomes

(To be continued in October 17 issue…)

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