Moral distance towards other selves

By way of mass media and social network technologies millions of people see Human Rights being violated every day. We watch it, witness it, but most of the time we are not in the area where the violation is taking place. Because the violations are shown, the stories told, the violations are brought out into the open and political pressure and diplomacy may possibly have a chance of altering the specific situation. Because the stories are shared, they also teach moral imagination (Krijnen 2005). People discuss what they see and at least cognitively come to understand their emotions and feelings. But only few can act upon the story and the feelings it triggers. The vast majority of people only see the violations on television, hear the reports via the radio, or read about them in the newspaper or on the internet and can do nothing about them. Our emotions are triggered by the mediated presences we perceive, we feel it is not right, yet we can do nothing. We can only d

Human Rights organizations try to break through this 'moral distance', but this is becoming more and more problematic (Hick, Halpin & Hoskins 2000). The effect of being a witness as actor has changed. Because of television, and by using social network technologies, we can witness anywhere anytime provided that the connections are made. While these technologies trigger 'moral distance', they also facilitate connections and collaborations to protect Human Rights as never before. People can connect via the Internet in a cheap and fast way and organize political action and trigger events and things happening in many places in a short time. This use of information and communication technologies functions as a catalyst for social movements. Nevertheless, I would argue, the effect of such human rights activities does not counter-balance the effect of taking moral distance by so many because of a lack of opportunity to act. Further research is needed into the question of what kinds of opportunities to act are necessary and possible when one is confronted with 'people we do not know' and who are in pain via mediated witnessed presence. It is also be interesting to pose the same question about 'people who we do not know' and who misbehave and harm others.

The possibility of acting and the feedback on the actions executed must ultimately impact on our natural presence if they wish to trigger the roots of our ethical behaviour. This is where our 'natural life-monitoring function' is located, even when many imaginary worlds and intense social environments influence our day-to-day being. Mediated presence increases the moral distance in principle. However, in certain situations where there is a strong and trusted context, as in the example of the Indian outsourcing company, moral distance may diminish to the point that people take responsibility for one another. Creating trusted contexts has been a strategy for centuries in dealing with 'people we do not know': nation states, military hierarchies, financial banks, postal services, solidarity movements, professional organizations and more. The information and communication technologies of the last few decades have challenged the way these trusted contexts are created and perceived. Because of the information and communication technologies the dynamics between the local, the regional and the global have changed. We learn to know and see much more than ever before of people we do not know, yet it seems we have as little or even lesser possibilities to act upon what we perceive. This impacts how trust and trusted contexts are created and perceived as well. In the next section I will first return to trust and its relation to the design of presence.