End of June I had the opportunity to give a presentation at the ICC at Sophia University, Tokyo. This presentation came as a result of the work of the Pufendorf project ‘Sustainable Welfare’ mentioned in the previous blog. In one chapter of the edited volume Sustainability and the Political Economy of Welfare Eric Brandstedt and Maria Emmelin suggest that it might be possible to cultivate social capital in order to create sustainable welfare, i.e. human welfare that does not build on the exploitation of environmental resources (western welfare states such as Sweden for example are unsustainable and do not serve as good examples for other states that would like to develop their human welfare systems, such as China).
In my presentation at Sophia, which was thought of as a starting point of a new research about children within our Digital China project, I deliberated about the possibility of creating a sustainable child welfare based on social media as the facilitator of social capital. So far, based on the rather scant research I have could gather on this topic, I found more negative points that speak against using digital methods in welfare systems (especially from the point of view of human dignity). However, the reason why I initially believed that digital child welfare would be mostly positive is due to the research about the capacity of social media to enhance social capital. Building on social capital is seen by Brandstedt and Emmelin as a possibility to create sustainable welfare without creating great (environmental) costs. Furthermore, social capital has been pointed out as one of the great benefits of social media for young people (and others, but especially young people). The idea of bridging and bonding social capital has already been tested on Chinese internet communities, also including youth, and also regarding questions of personal well-being. The possibility of social media communication to send and receive quality information has been highlighted, as well as the bonding potentials that have positive effects on people.
Another positive effect of using digital methods in child welfare lies in their beneficial outcomes for children with disabilities. Computers and also the internet are not only learning tools for visually, speech or hearing impaired or for children whose movements are compromised but they have also been found to be beneficial tools in getting connected with children who live through similar problems, which can lead to a decrease in the mental burden. Furthermore, young people who belong to sexual, physical, ethnic minorities, who are queer, LGBTQ, whose sexuality is not according to normative standards can experience relieve in communicating via social media, especially when they live in remote areas and feel left alone or so different from others.
Yet, without further dealing with them in detail, the negative points are more serious and include 1) surveillance and infringement of privacy of the child and the possible increase of inequality; 2) problems with trust and abuse of power in digital communication; 3) the importance of physical contact with people, which is diminished with digital methods; 4) the unsustainability of digital technology.