Cultural processes in the age of the digital revolution

10 Nov 2020 15:10h - 16:40h

Event report

This workshop explored some of the social practices that are evolving due to the Internet, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The panellists approached the questions of the impact of media on society, children’s safety online, and digital citizenship. To set the pace, moderator Mr David Wright (Director, UK Safer Internet Centre) painted a picture of the central role played by the Internet during the COVID 19 pandemic, as parents and children worked and learned from home.

Examples of cultural changes brought about by the Internet were presented. Ms Anna Rywczyńska (Manager, National Research Institute (NASK)) shared findings from research on the Internet and family. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were concerns about time spent by children online, as well as their safety on the Internet. Children mostly accessed the Internet to pass the time after school and for entertainment purposes. The research noted that, following the pandemic, parents had become more observant of their children’s online practices. There were also shifts in the use of the Internet to more educational and work purposes. Ms Janice Richardson (Founder, Insight) similarly shared findings of ongoing research on digital citizenship in families in Europe. The research begun prior to the COVID-19 pandemic where most parents were concerned with balancing screen time with physical play. After the pandemic, parents spoke of the challenges in supporting their children in remote online education. The 15-year-old Philippine Balmadier, a student, explained that teachers were not equipped to handle digital learning, hence the challenges experienced with remote learning. Other challenges noted during the discussion included the mental anguish brought about by pandemic measures such as limited movement, the lack of support for parents who have to balance their workload and assisting their children in online study, as well as the lack of support to children with disabilities which exacerbates the burden for their parents. As a result, we are faced with conflicts in the digital family arising from a sense of deficit as family members spend time online, a lack of knowledge among parents and teachers, bad relationships between family members, as well as hardware shortages.

The session also explored how the media shapes our digital citizenship. Mr Miroslaw Filiciak (Director, Institute of Humanities, SWPS University, Poland) sees the Internet as a democratising force, since it has enabled access to information for all, unlike previous technologies that were only available to higher social classes. However, problems with the media, such as bias, as well as profiling users, including children, are a big concern. From a theoretical perspective, Ms Anna Kalinowska (Independent Researcher) argued that digital technologies are ‘technologies of the self’, which she defined as frameworks for immaterial methods with ramifications for physical spaces. Hence, digital problems are related to analogue issues. This was corroborated by the analogy of ‘the door and the mirror’ where children mirror their parents and will therefore learn how to use digital tools by observing their parents. However, when they leave their houses, they become more open and vulnerable to the outside world. Digital spaces could also be viewed as inside or outside depending on how they are set up. From a young person’s perspective, vulnerability is an important part of discovering one’s self, and just as it is allowed in physical spaces, it should be allowed online, but with guidance.

During the question-and-answer session, one of the issues that stood out for participants was that the digital had demonstrated that children could also exercise citizenship and should therefore participate in shaping their world. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the gaps in Internet access, in which children in some parts of Europe could not access digital learning due to sporadic Internet. Noting that the Internet had created hybrids of physical spaces, where for instance homes are now also acting as schools and offices, participants were advised to build a culture of self-discipline, both in physical and digital spaces.