Digital Karma as Cause and Effect

How what we do online, even in the smallest details, can affect our lives and how the world will be in the future

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Digital Karma is a concept very useful to understand basic truths of our lives, far beyond what happens simply online, as I have explained in a previous article published here in Thrive Global. I have first mentioned karma as the principle of cause and effect. It means that every action we perform during our life produces effects, which have consequences on ourselves, on other people and on the environment in which we live. These effects last and affect both our lives and the world around us, even after our death.

If we talk about concrete consequences of our actions in the digital arena, the strongest examples are those related to cyberbullying. When a girl arrives at suicide after her intimate videos have been online for months, switching from one social network to another (this really happened in Italy), we can say that many people contributed to this dramatic outcome, each of them with a degree of responsibility, including those who only viewed videos of the scandal, helping to increase their popularity.

Another example is given by Facebook updates. Things that I share become the mental nourishment of other people, contributing decisively not only to their mood, but to their own well-being, as many researches have shown. Moreover, the shares on Facebook contribute to creating a climate that influences opinions and attitudes of other people, directing their actions. The influence of Facebook in elections is one of the most clamorous examples, but it is non Facebook Inc. that deliberately try to manipulate public opinion. They are millions of users that give their contribution to a distorted use of a mean designed to help people to meet online.

Another concrete case is the content and tone of the messages exchanged through email, chats and various messaging systems. It is very easy to experience how a poorly-chosen choice of words in written messages is able to cause reactions more or less strong and trigger verbal fights. Words can provoke, intimidate, offend, hurt, humiliate; but they can also gratify, express gratitude, encourage, promote trust, reassure. Even just entering a kind expression into a work email may be able to trigger a slight change in mood on the other side, which in turn can contribute to generating positive thoughts, which can be translated into words and actions of kindness towards others, or even direct choices in one sense rather than another. Our words directed to a distant interlocutor travel through the net and scatter seeds in the world, like wind does. Over time those seeds will ripen and generate other seeds. It is up to us to choose what kind of fruits spread on this Earth.

In reality, everything we do online leaves traces of our passage and causes consequences. View certain articles in an online store, perform certain searches on Google, visit certain pages rather than others, view certain videos on YouTube or Vimeo: all this is material that is processed by the algorithms of online platforms to determine the profiles of users and consequently conform their own proposals, which will soon turn into people’s behaviors.

All this means that when we interact with our digital devices, there is nothing absolutely neutral that we can do, because everything – even the smallest detail – helps to determine who we will be in the future, what we will leave of us and how the world where we live will be in the next days, months, years and centuries.

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