Core values? Even software, file formats and servers transmit them

On November 4th, 2016, I was invited to attend the Conference by the Pontifical Lateran University on “Core Values - The Transmission of Values in Digital Age”.:

Core values? Even software, file formats and servers transmit them /img/core-values.jpg

I was very happy to go, because I’ve been studying the relations between Catholicism and (open) digital technologies for more than ten years now (see links below). I have listed in a separate post the most interesting things I was happy to hear at the Core Values conference. Here, instead, I’d like to mention, and explain, the things that I did not find in the event.

And what I did NOT find is…

First, and as a (not really) side issue, women. I was quite surprised to find an overwhelmingly male audience. I’m pretty sure a conference reserved to Catholic priests and religious people would have not had less women than this. Of course, lack of women in that audience was not the fault of the Catholic Church, but of the industries called to participate, defined in the booklet as “key players of the three pillars of the Digital Age: Advertising, Comunication and New Digital Technologies”.

Let me make one thing clear: it was right to invite those players, because they are, indeed, the makers, designers and architects of contemporary culture, as Mons. Ruiz said. They have to be involved in such discourses. In general, I also found comforting signs that even big corporations DO get that they must care more than in the past about issues like global warming or transparency.

At the same time, I found practically NO real mention, or symptoms of awareness (in the public talks and debates of that specific conference, of course!) of some issues.

First, that discussion of something as crucial as “ethically correct transmission of core values in today’s digital world” should not be started only with for-profit, corporate players. As I already said, I do agree that they must be called to do their part. But I would have found the conference more balanced, and complete, if it had included panelists from players like (just as an example!) the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Second (albeit partly related to the first issue): maybe I am biased here but, throughout the whole day, I perceived too much a vision of the Internet as a mere “TV 2.0”, that is a mostly top-down, unidirectional media, to be comfortable with it. Or even to believe that, even if I liked such a vision, it could be technically feasible

Third, and maybe more important, I did not see enough awareness, that digital technologies and network architectures are anything but ethically neutral. I refer to the facts that:

  • Choice, or just the mere, passive acceptance of file formats and digital communication protocols that can only be used with one software programs and/or relatively powerful computers, may restrict better than censorship who can send or receive certain messages (for a real world example from the Catholic Church, see “writing #5” below)
  • Focusing discussions on how the Catholic Church and everybody else (starting with the owners and only effective controllers of the same platforms…) should behave in or about platforms like Facebook or Google may strenghten the idea that the platforms and technologies to use must be the current, centralized ones, or others like them. That is platforms that, by their own nature, cannot offer the best defenses from centralized control, or censorship. Here’s an admittedly dumb and provocative, but easy to present example of why this may not be a good idea: it is no secret that, by and large, the tech giants of Silicon Valley don’t exactly see eye to eye with the Catholic Church when it comes to marriage, sex, and other ethics issues. In such a context, is it convenient for the latter to only discuss digital “transmission of core values” with representatives of the former category?

In my opinion, instead, any discussion on transmission of core values in the digital age should always include, and build general awareness of, also other choices and approaches to digital technologies and platforms. I refer to choices approachesĀ  that, being really open and distributed, may often be more coherent with the ethics goals presented at the conference. For practical examples of what I mean, please see “writing #6” below.

What should be done?

Of course, the fact that there were no mentions of certain issues at that single conference doesn’t mean that the Lateran University, or the Vatican for that matter, do not know or care about them. However, I suggest that it is time to explicitly build awareness, and stimulate discussion about the issues above, inside the Church. In practice, I would suggest to start with another, complementary conference in the Vatican, that introduces and discusses, (also) with non-corporate stakeholders, the role of really open digital technologies and platforms in the transmission of core values. I am available to co-organize such an event, as well as any other popularization/education/research activities of the same kind, inside catholics institutions. To discuss how we may do it, please email me.

My main writings on these topics

(the most important ones are marked in bold. Some of the other are little blog posts, but still useful to get a a general idea of certain issues)

  1. 2005: Free Software’s Surprising Sympathy with Catholic Doctrine
  2. 2005: Christian Endorsement for Free Software Increases
  3. 2006: (with others) the Eleutheros Manifesto for a Catholic Approach to ICT
  4. 2009: The real effect of the Internet on Catholicism (or any other religion)
  5. 2013: The departure of Benedict XVI? Not on this computer, sorry
  6. 2013: Catholic Social Doctrine And the Openness Revolution: Natural Travel Companions?
  7. 2013: a suggestion to all Commoners
  8. 2014: How many Christians will participate to DFD2014?
  9. 2015: Catholics, Free Software and Free Knowledge, again