chapter  8
The ethics of digital being
Vulnerability, invulnerability, and ‘dangerous surprises’
ByVincent Miller
Pages 16

This chapter will engage with the notion that one of the key defining features of digital being, at least in terms of ethical engagement with others via technological interfaces and networks, is a heightened state of both invulnerability and vulnerability. Merleau-Ponty suggested that embodied existence in the world is defined by a stance of vulnerability and the anticipation of ‘dangerous surprises’. In digital existence, the author suggests that our continuous, archived, digital presence, distributed in a multitude of networks, archives, databases and servers, opens us up to increased vulnerabilities of which we are only partially aware. These vulnerabilities become more present to us when we hear of, or are the victims of trolling, a data breach, hacking scandal or other form of ‘dangerous surprise’. This chapter looks in detail at two incidents: the five-year-long trolling campaign against Nicola Brookes, and the ‘Ashley Madison hack’ of 2015. Using these examples, this chapter will investigate the notion of vulnerability as one way to investigate being in the digital age. The author argues that digital being consists of a contradictory stance to the world: of heightened invulnerability in our social encounters with others, alongside a heightened vulnerability to a host of unknown ‘dangerous surprises’. The author suggests further that the negotiation of this stance is fundamental to any development of an ethics for the digital age.