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Written by Shaked Spier and Rosalie Waelen

Published on April, 11 2022


At the 2021 4TU.Ethics bi-annual conference on Ethics and Technology we, a group of 4TU.Ethics PhDs, decided to give the conference’s motto “IT’S ALIVE” a twist. In our symposium “It’s out of the box”, we had just one rule – break as many rules as possible; discursive rules, that is.

Our hypothesis was—for some—provocative. But it was actually quite simple:

To the so-called 'digital natives', the boundaries between the way we communicate in 'real life' and using novel ICTs are becoming less and less clear. In contrast to the baby-boomer generation/Generation X, (digital) technologies do not change how digital natives interact with the world, but rather construct it from the very beginning of their socialization.

As a result of being accustomed to these modern means of communication, young scholars can have new, out of the box approaches to the philosophy and ethics of technology. To express these out of the box conceptions of technology, we need to break the boundaries of the language that we use to talk about technology. Or in the words of Marshall McLuhan: "the medium is the message".

In this spirit, the symposium was an experiment in academic and philosophical communication. Presentations consisted of memes (and drawings) only. We held nine short pitches, instead of three not-so-short talks. And each presentation delivered one concise 'take-home message' on the Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation project. No more, no less.

Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that “a serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes”. While the verdict on that is still open, we now know that a serious and good philosophical conference presentation could be written consisting—at least in part—of memes.

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