Navigating the digital world

Discernment is a never-ending process in the virtual landscape,
especially for those who teach and guide young people.

 JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH 

By Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector, Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide

Young people’s lives are increasingly impacted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and social media. We all need to continually discern how to harness the advantages and mitigate pitfalls in order to foster good human development and positive relations between people. The need for discernment about what is good and what is harmful in the digital landscape remains critical for students, parents and educators. We must all be more responsible when it comes to harnessing the benefits and understanding the risks of AI and social media. There is an appeal and convenience that lures the unsuspecting unless it is understood, monitored and critiqued.

Pope Francis has encouraged us to consider the challenges of Artificial Intelligence in two recent homilies: Artificial Intelligence and Peace on 1 January this year to mark the World Day of Peace, and Artificial Intelligence and the Wisdom of the Heart: Towards a Fully Human Communication on 24 January.

AI is a tool that enhances efficiency and creates possibilities in so many fields such as engineering, healthcare and finance, among others. As technology progresses, the landscape of employment will change, especially with tasks that lend themselves to automation. Young people will require great proficiency in computer skills, programming and digital literacy to navigate the future. While technical skills are valuable, human attributes such as kindness, creativity and compassion remain indispensable. AI cannot replace essential human qualities, but it will complement them.

Fr Peter Hosking SJ. Photo: Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide.

Social media serves as a ubiquitous platform for communication and connection. Platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Weibo, Tumblr and others play a pivotal role in linking individuals, enabling the instant sharing of ideas and information. However, these platforms come with their own challenges, including online exclusion or bullying, exposure to misinformation due to myopic sources, and excessive and addictive behaviours. Undiscerned social media use leads to depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep, low self-esteem, poor body image and harassment. The relationships between platforms and tech giants such as Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla and others raises concerns about data mining, privacy, algorithm bias and commercial ethics.

Google unveiled plans two days ago to enhance its systems for identifying media content produced or modified by artificial intelligence. Similarly, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, will introduce technology capable of detecting and labelling images generated by AI tools. Addressing any form of AI-generated deception is crucial for the industry.

In this rapidly shifting landscape, parents and teachers become fundamental formators in helping young people interact responsibly with the digital world. Parents have more family discussions about digital expectations. Guidelines for online behaviour, parental control apps and the like are essential in the home. Faculty leaders adapt curricula to include critical thinking and ethical awareness about technology. Digital citizenship initiatives around cybersafety and cyberbullying are emphasised in the wellbeing space. There is increasing resourcing for data security, server control and digital management strategies.

Young people are presented with a landscape of immense opportunities and challenges. They must cultivate both technical proficiency as well as crucial human skills such as adaptability, emotional intelligence, leadership, problem-solving and effective and honest communication. Fostering a mindset of continuous learning, adaptability and ethical awareness will help young people navigate the complexities of the digital age with resilience and a keen understanding of right and wrong.

This article is an updated version of one that was originally published in a recent edition of ‘The Ignatian’, the newsletter of Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide

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