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Digital communication in and beyond organizations: unintended consequences of new freedom

Elisa Maria Entschew (HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, Leipzig, Germany)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 12 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to address the following question: In times of permanent connectivity, what forms of freedom need to be considered to prevent permanent availability as an unintended consequence? By using the Hegelian perspective on freedom, the paper categorizes three forms of freedom to transfer them to a common, contemporary understanding of freedom relating it to freedom through human-to-human digital communication. The aim is to show that freedom is not only about independence and realizing choices but also about embedding and committing oneself.

Design/methodology/approach

This mainly conceptual paper derives implications based on the Hegelian theory. This is supplemented by an interdisciplinary approach, whereby categories of other philosophers, ethicists, economists and sociologists are applied. The analysis of the contemporary perspective on freedom is enriched by referencing empirical studies.

Findings

Digital communication offers new freedom such as working with fewer restrictions from time and space, especially for knowledge workers. It is theoretically possible to work 24 h per day from anywhere (independence), as well as to decide on the final location and timing of one’s work (realizing choices). When solely focusing on these – seemingly advantageous – forms of freedom in times of permanent connectivity, unintended consequences such as the expectation of permanent availability develop. The key message of the paper is that considering one’s temporal and social dependencies (embeddedness) is an indispensable part of actual freedom to avoid unintended consequences.

Practical implications

Organizations need to invest in moral discernment to understand unintended consequences, as well as to cope with them.

Originality/value

Applying the Hegelian theory on freedom based on digital communication to better understand social dynamics of digital communication is a largely unexplored avenue in the existing scientific literature. The decision to undertake this venture resulted from the identified necessity of understanding freedom better. It is often not clear what is meant by freedom through digital communication. Although freedom is a complex construct, it is often reduced to independence/having a choice and realizing choices. When solely focusing on independence and realizing choices, unintended consequences such as permanent availability often go unnoticed. It is exactly because of these issues that this paper endeavors to examine the (deep) meaning of the powerful, yet complex, term of freedom.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author is grateful for thoughtful comments from anonymous reviewers and theoretical support from Prof. Dr. Andreas Suchanek and Raphael Ng.

Citation

Entschew, E.M. (2019), "Digital communication in and beyond organizations: unintended consequences of new freedom", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 304-320. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-08-2018-0068

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited