Carolyn Dicey Jennings
University of California, Merced
An important topic in the ethics of technology is the extent to which recent digital technologies undermine user autonomy. Supporting evidence includes the fact that recent digital technologies are known to have an impact on attention, which balances "bottom-up" and "top-down" influences on cognition. As described in numerous papers, these technologies manipulate bottom-up influences through cognitive fluency, intermittent variable rewards, and other techniques, making them more attractive to the user. We further reason that recent digital technologies reduce the user’s ability to exert top-down attention due to the scale of the content—they provide far more content at a much faster pace than other technologies, which over time reweights the balance of attention in favor of bottom-up influences. After reviewing evidence for these effects, including their temporal duration, we consider their downstream effects on both autonomy and creativity. We find that while the impact of recent digital technologies on top-down attention may allow for more idea generation, that creativity also depends on control, which is undermined by these technologies. We are more circumspect with autonomy, reasoning that in certain cases it might not make sense to see user autonomy as harmed through these effects. We conclude with other ways that recent digital technologies may improve creativity, which may act as an offset to the detrimental impacts of these technologies. (Part of the essay collection from the 2021 Workshop in the History of Science at Princeton on the theme of Attention, to be published in 2023)
Keywords attention  creativity  technology  social media  autonomy  neuroscience  psychology
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Autonomy and Online Manipulation.Michael Klenk & Jeff Hancock - 2019 - Internet Policy Review 1:1-11.
Social Media, Digital Technology, and Education: Personalized Learning and Questions of Autonomy, Authority, and Public/Community.Heather Greenhalgh-Spencer - 2018 - In Ann Chinnery, Nuraan Davids, Naomi Hodgson, Kai Horsthemke, Viktor Johansson, Dirk Willem Postma, Claudia W. Ruitenberg, Paul Smeyers, Christiane Thompson, Joris Vlieghe, Hanan Alexander, Joop Berding, Charles Bingham, Michael Bonnett, David Bridges, Malte Brinkmann, Brian A. Brown, Carsten Bünger, Nicholas C. Burbules, Rita Casale, M. Victoria Costa, Brian Coyne, Renato Huarte Cuéllar, Stefaan E. Cuypers, Johan Dahlbeck, Suzanne de Castell, Doret de Ruyter, Samantha Deane, Sarah J. DesRoches, Eduardo Duarte, Denise Egéa, Penny Enslin, Oren Ergas, Lynn Fendler, Sheron Fraser-Burgess, Norm Friesen, Amanda Fulford, Heather Greenhalgh-Spencer, Stefan Herbrechter, Chris Higgins, Pádraig Hogan, Katariina Holma, Liz Jackson, Ronald B. Jacobson, Jennifer Jenson, Kerstin Jergus, Clarence W. Joldersma, Mark E. Jonas, Zdenko Kodelja, Wendy Kohli, Anna Kouppanou, Heikki A. Kovalainen, Lesley Le Grange, David Lewin, Tyson E. Lewis, Gerard Lum, Niclas Månsson, Christopher Martin & Jan Masschelein (eds.), International Handbook of Philosophy of Education. Springer Verlag. pp. 1307-1320.
Technological Medicine and the Autonomy of Man.Bjørn Hofmann - 2002 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 5 (2):157-167.
Focus on Technologies: Worry or Technology?Saulius Kanišauskas - 2015 - Santalka: Filosofija, Komunikacija 23 (2):139-148.
The Subject of Attention.Carolyn Dicey Jennings - 2012 - Synthese 189 (3):535-554.
Neil Postman and the Critique of Technology.J. M. van der Laan - 2004 - Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 24 (2):145-150.
Herbert Marcuse and Social Media.Christian Fuchs - 2016 - Radical Philosophy Review 19 (1):111-141.


Added to PP index

Total views
97 ( #120,692 of 2,507,896 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
38 ( #23,022 of 2,507,896 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes