digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Why the military?

April 28, 2009 _ 21:59 / Caitlin McNally / comments (0)

In our earliest conversations about story ideas for Digital Nation, the American military's aggressive employment of digital technology came up as fertile ground for exploration. When we started researching, we found endless examples of how our military is employing digital technologies, from recruitment and training to actual war-fighting to therapy and treatment. After all, it was the military that helped invent the Internet in the first place: many momentous technological advances are born of a concern for defense and the attendant rush of resources. Today is no different from the past.

A whole film could easily be devoted to the question of war in a digital age. To help organize our journey, we set out with a couple of governing questions: how does the military's use of digital technology affect people's everyday lives? Where are the larger conversations about the benefits of technology-driven progress -- as well as the concerns -- reflected in our armed forces? And what questions does the use of digital tools raise for us as a society, at war in two countries and in a moment when we're forced to redefine the very nature of military conflict? Rather than profile the technology itself, we aim to look at the human issues and societal shifts that occur as the experience of war changes before our eyes.

To that end, you'll find stories here from soldiers and marines about the use of virtual reality to help overcome the devastation of post-traumatic stress disorder. You'll also see how the same virtual technology is used to train marines before they ever step foot into the impossibly demanding urban combat environments that define conflict today. You'll see how soldiers on deployment use social media to unwind and connect with their lives back home, as well as how media is used against them as psychological propaganda in combat zones. You'll hear about the military's struggle to meet the demands of a digital generation, from blogs to chat rooms to video gaming. And, you'll encounter the dedicated researchers and scientists, coming from universities, the game industry and even Hollywood, who are behind some of the military's most potent technologies.

Just today, the news is filled with accounts of the Taliban's use of human shields in Pakistan against U.S. airstrikes. These airstrikes are executed by unmanned aerial vehicles, piloted by Americans thousands of miles away from their targets, and our use of these UAVs in the conflicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan shows no sign of slowing. Every day, examples of the repercussions of digital age war surround us -- this is the nature of armed conflict now. As a noted author and expert on wired war reminds us, the technology moves faster than we often realize, and it's our responsibility to pay attention.

We look forward to your thoughts and comments on this next chapter of our journey.

-- Caitlin

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posted February 2, 2010

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