THE CONFERENCE THEME

 

Are You Human?
Communication, Technology, and New Humanism

In the world we live today, what makes us human—or less human?

We now live in a technological civilization dominated by media culture. Two observations by Jordi Torrent (2014) of the UN Alliance of Civilizations capture the essence of this characterization:

We have evolved from a society where the framework was “I think therefore I am” to one where the basis of self-identity is “I communicate therefore I exist.” The terrain of this identity formation is the Internet, in particular, the social media platforms. (p. 28)

If we may rephrase Torrent’s observation, we would say, “I click therefore I exist” or “I swipe therefore I exist.”

Torrent (2014) also observed that the internet is “rapidly becoming the framework of our life (private and public),” that there are parts of the world where mobile internet access is “easier than access to clean water or sanitation facilities,” and that in industrialized societies, children practice active social media engagement (p. 28).

Another recent term used to describe today’s new world is the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and a lead proponent of the concept, describes 4IR as characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. According to Schwab, 4IR is evolving at an exponential pace and that the breadth and depth of the changes it brings lead to the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

 

The Call for New Humanism and Mindfulness

Amidst today’s media culture and technological civilization, and as the world continues to face grim realities and risks in ICT use, there is recognition of the urgent need for a return to values— we call for new humanism and mindfulness.

The meaning of humanism has evolved over the years, from its renaissance perspective to “evolutionary humanism” and the present “new humanism,” both espoused by UNESCO.

In A New Humanism for the 21st Century (2010), former UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova noted that developments across the globe call for a new humanism that aims to create a “more inclusive society in which all humans have a chance to access knowledge and quality education and every voice is heard in the universal dialogue.” Bokova believes new humanism should “prioritize a new sense of respect for multiplicity and cultural diversity and must support media development with the goal of consolidating the new culture of peace” (as cited in Tornero & Varis, 2010, p. 4).

In the context of today’s media culture and technological civilization, Tornero and Varis (2010) identified the following values of new humanism:

  • The human person is recognized to be at the core of media civilization;
  • Discernment must replace the trusting, unselective attitude toward technology;
  • Respect for multiplicity and cultural diversity must be prioritized, and a new culture of peace in media development must be supported; and
  • The “classical idea of the cosmopolitan, universal citizen, with very clear rights and responsibilities that entail a planet-wide commitment” should be revived.

 

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is rooted in age-old Asian philosophies and religion, specifically Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucius teachings, on different topics including social harmony, respect for cultural diversity, sufficiency economics, and environmental protection.

The reemergence of Asia as the new economic global power center appears to have rekindled interest in mindfulness.

In The Art of Communicating (2013, p. 5), peace activist and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that “mindfulness requires letting go of judgment, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you.” Among the values one must demonstrate in practicing mindfulness are practicing deep listening instead of passive listening; showing empathy rather than sympathy; encouraging dialogue; and finding contentment and avoiding greed.


Communication Framework and Research Agenda
Anchored on Humanism and Mindfulness

Isn’t it about time we develop new communication frameworks or communication theories anchored on new humanism, and mindfulness? What possible elements should be included in the frameworks? Are there distinct values that can be highlighted? Shouldn’t Asia take the lead in crafting new communication frameworks?

As for the research agenda, what are the current most relevant communication issues in your country that can be studied in the context of new humanism and mindfulness? Following are some questions that may be raised:

  • How can communication media promote contentment over greed when it is saturated with images of consumerism?
  • How can the news media shift from producing incident-based, sensationalized news to releasing informative yet compelling reports that focus on finding concrete solutions to man’s problems?
  • How can discerning “consumers” demand for the quality of media and information they want?
  • How can the communication media promote respect for cultural diversity and differing worldviews?

 

To be Human or Not

Never in the history of mankind have humans been presented with an option on whether to be human or otherwise. We now seriously talk of the concept of posthumanism not as an abstract but a real construct. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and algorithm are among the dominating constructs that animate our debate on what makes us human—or less human.

Indeed, our 27th AMIC Conference is expected to be very challenging as it threads on a theme many may find controversial, if not heretic (considering the old meaning of humanism). AMIC believes that issues and hard questions on the relationship of man and technology have to be asked and answered and our annual forum provides an ideal platform.

Thailand provides the best venue to discuss these issues considering the strong tradition and influence of Buddhism in the country. The conference will be held on 17-19 June 2019 at Chulalongkorn University. The university has pioneered the integration of mindfulness in communication and journalism.


References

Bokova, I. (2010). A new humanism for the 21st century. Paris, France: UNESCO.

Nhat Hanh, T. (2013). The art of communicating. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Schwab, Klaus. (2016).The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it means, how to respond. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/

Tornero, J. M. P., & Varis, T. (2010). Media literacy and new humanism. Moscow, Russian Federation: UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education.

Torrent, J. (2014). MIL and the Web 3.0. In S. H. Culver & P. Kerr (Eds.), Global citizenship in a digital world (27-30). Sweden: University of Gothenburg.

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