Nicoletta Iacobacci


From Cave Walls to Digital Halls: Navigating Our Ethical Footprints

The following blog post explores the concept of our ethical footprints in a digital world. It’s framed as a conversation with Kai, a tech-savvy 13-year-old, to showcase diverse perspectives on this crucial subject. To add a touch of realism and fun, I’ve even invented some slang terms together using Generative AI. So, the English used here is written accordingly to reflect that conversational tone and creativity.

What does it mean when we click “like” on a social media post? These digital gestures, which I like to call “netprints,” might seem superficial, but they’re more than that. They’re the modern-day equivalent of handprints on cave walls. At first glance, we might think of them as religious or shamanic symbols. But what if they were merely a prehistoric mother telling her children to stop making a mess on the wall?

Whether a sign of religious devotion or simply kids playing these prehistoric marks are echoes of lives once lived. So, what traces are we leaving for future generations?

Fast forward to today, where stone pyramids, papyrus scrolls, and, yes, the digital hallways of the Internet are the keepers of our collective wisdom and experience. The web amplifies the scope of our “netprints” to an unprecedented scale, making it a sort of digital Babel where every click, every search query, and every social media update becomes a part of our collective heritage.

KAI: Oh, for sure! We’re all time-skippers , right? Except our DeLorean is made up of daily choices. Our guidebooks? History and this ever-evolving “digiculture.” So, how about we don’t botch it up?

Philosopher Maurizio Ferraris argues that our unique ability to leverage technology to build on our collective past sets us apart from other species. It’s not just brain size or social skills; it’s our extraordinary capability to externalize, replicate, and transform traces—our “netprints”—into meaningful technology and shared knowledge.

In contrast to other animals, we don’t just interpret traces; we convert them into knowledge and carry them metaphorically and literally forward. Think about it: an ape may use a stick to knock down fruit, but the stick stays put, forgotten until the next mealtime. Early humans not only brought their tools back to their caves but also started creating traces that transcended immediate survival needs—like drawings of hunting scenes, lunar calendars etched on bone, and, eventually, writing systems.

KAI: And hey, don’t forget, even when we’re just playing a video game or texting friends, that’s still leaving a trace, a “netprint.” It’s mindspark to think that someday, someone might learn something about our lives right now, just like we learn about cave people and their handprints or Egyptian hieroglyphs.

It’s not by mere chance but through this intricate web of intentional and unintentional traces that we have become who we are—complex beings shaped by a tapestry of memories, experiences, and collective knowledge. We haven’t evolved at the sluggish pace of nature; instead, we’ve accelerated through the fast lanes of culture and technology.

With its unfathomable data collection and storage powers, the Internet places us at a unique juncture in time. For the first time, we have the technical, scientific, and political capacity to avert environmental catastrophes and address social inequities. While platforms might commodify our “netprints,” we retain the agency to use these traces for the collective good if we have the ethical and intellectual resources to achieve it.

KAI: Also, it’s crazy how the Internet never forgets. One-click, one post, and boom! You’re part of this gigantic digital library. So, yeah, let’s try to fill it with good content, you know? Stuff that we wouldn’t mind future generations checking out.

Yes, the risk lies in how we choose to use these traces. Our ethical considerations extend beyond personal choices; they carry universal implications, as the possibility of a brighter future hinges on our wise and ethical use of these digital footprints.

Immanuel Kant, with his Categorical Imperative, would likely argue that our digital actions should be guided by principles that can be universally applied. Consider the example of online privacy breaches. Would we want to live in a world where everyone snoops, hacks, and invades others’ personal spaces online? Clearly not. Such actions would erode trust and security, creating a chaotic and unsustainable society. Therefore, ethical conduct in the digital realm becomes not just a personal but a universal responsibility.

KAI: Ethics in ‘digiculture’? Sounds wicked complex. How do we keep our ‘netprint’ game strong and clean? This isn’t just a challenge to be won or lost; it’s a responsibility we cannot afford to dodge. 

In line with Kantian ethics, our survival depends not just on understanding where we come from (our past traces) or who we are now (our present actions) but also on where we are headed (our future intentions). Our digital behavior should not only stand up to scrutiny now but also in the eyes of future generations who will inherit the world—and web—we leave behind.

KAI: You know what’s even cooler? We’re not just scribbling in history books; we’re writing them, page by page. Every choice adds a sentence, a paragraph to the future. Let’s write something worth reading, yeah?

And so, as we step forward into an increasingly digitized world, we must tread carefully. Our digital footprints, or “netprints,” are both a treasure and a liability. Used wisely, they can lead us toward a more equitable, sustainable, and enlightened future. Used poorly, they could direct us down paths of inequality, exploitation, and ultimate ruin.
The choice, as it has always been, is ours to make. Our future—and that of generations to come—will be guided by the ‘netprints’ we choose to leave behind. Right, Kai?

KAI: Absolutely! So let’s make ’em count!

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