Evaluating the Cultural Quality of New Media:
Towards an Integrated Philosophy of Human-Media Relations

New media have shaped modern culture, by affecting the way people behave, communicate, learn, and conceive of themselves and their world. The cultural impact of new media has become a major topic of academic study. An increasing number of studies is critical and normative, and assesses the goodness or badness of aspects and implications of new media culture. These implications have also become a hot topic in popular discussions, in which new media like the Internet, video games, and mobile telephones are criticized for their effects on social relations, values, institutions, and everyday life. Unfortunately, existing discussions, including scholarly ones, are often shallow, assigning labels like “good,” “bad,” “harmful” or “beneficial” with little argument or proof, and appealing to abstract values that are no further explicated or defended. A thorough appraisal of new media culture is made difficult by the uniqueness of many of its implications, and existing normative vocabularies, including those of ethics, political theory, aesthetics and epistemology, seem to fall short.

The foremost aim of this project is to develop a framework for a better normative analysis of new media culture that focuses on its implications for the good life and the good of society. It will use recent work in philosophy and science and technology studies to develop an analytical framework for the investigation of such implications relative to different ideals. Additionally, it will perform analyses of key implications of new media technology for the quality of life and society, and will include projects on the value of digital information, the implications of cyberspace and virtualization, the impact of computer mediation on human practice, and the positions of major political and cultural ideologies regarding the relation between new media, the quality of life and the quality of society.

There will be five projects, three of which will examine the alleged implications for the quality of life and society of the three developments in new media culture sketched earlier: digitization, virtualization and mediation. A fourth project will analyze critical positions on new media in the context of major ideological traditions. A fifth project will have as its goal the development of the framework for quality analyses itself and the integration of results of the four satellite projects.

Project 1 – The Quality of Virtual Environments and Tools

Our culture is becoming in part a virtual culture, in that an increasingly large portion of the things that people perceive, use, interact with, and attach meaning to are virtual. What are the implications of this for the good life and the good society?

Project 2 – The Quality of Computer-Mediated Social Relations

The aim of this project is to analyze implications of computer-mediated practices for the good life and the good society. The focus will be on social interaction using new media, and their implications for the quality of communication, friendship and love relationships and community.

Project 3 – Societal Appraisals of the Cultural Quality of New Media

This project will perform a study of appraisals of new media by major ideologies or worldviews, with the aim of assessing how these relate to conceptions of the good life and the good society held by these ideologies.

Project 4 – The Quality of Digital Information

In this project, an analysis will be performed of digital information and information processing to gain a better understanding of the changed value of information after the digital revolution, particularly in relation to conceptions of the good life and good society.

Project 5 – A Conceptual and Methodological Framework for Quality Analysis of New Media

This project will develop the general methodological framework, and will synthesize results from the four other projects.