Feb 22, 2022

The Digital Age & Human Flourishing with Vint Cerf (podcast)

One of the "fathers of the Internet" reflects on digital literacy, curiosity-driven research, community, and communication in relation to human flourishing.

By Templeton Staff

Vint Cerf is co-designer of the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google, and is globally recognized as one of the “fathers of the Internet.” For his extraordinary contributions to the creation of Internet technology, Cerf has been awarded a U.S. National Medal of Technology, the Turing Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Drawing on his own experience with being hearing impaired, he’s also known as a leading advocate for technology to be made accessible to people with a variety of abilities. Cerf’s consideration of how humans can use digital technology to flourish is a natural extension of his lifetime of work as an engineer.

Listen in, as he offers thoughts on how we can successfully navigate a constantly changing digital world and limit its potential harms. Takeaways from this episode:

Part of human flourishing is fulfilling your capabilities, and serving others

"From putting to work that capacity which you’ve been born with and have nurtured," says Cerf, there comes a "satisfying sense of contribution."  Doing something that’s practical and useful, and seeing that contribution being used by others to an advantage is fulfilling. "In the science world," he continues, there’s even "a step beyond that, and that’s understanding. Discovery. Curiosity-driven research, where you may not have a pragmatic purpose, but you just want to know: how does it work? Science, technology, and engineering are partners in a kind of flourishing."


A sense of belonging must be a part of flourishing.


Cerf also cites nurturing a sense of belonging as one of the most important factors for flourishing. "The idea that you care about other people, not just immediate family members, but others who are part of your local community, neighborhood, household, country and so on — this sense of belonging must be a part of flourishing. If you don’t feel like you belong, it’s hard to feel as if you are flourishing."

Digital literacy and education allow us to be better stewards of technology

Technologies of our contemporary and quickly developing digital age are empowering but also potentially dangerous. "There can’t be much doubt that the invention of the Internet, on top of which was added the World Wide Web, has produced an information universe, which renders information more accessible now than it ever has been in human history. Of course, the problem here is that everyone can contribute, which is wonderful. The trouble is that not everyone’s information quality is equal. And in fact, some people are deliberately contributing 'polluting' information if you like." A significant way to mitigate this potential harm, Cerf believes, is education encouraging a kind of digital literacy that involves critical thinking and learning how to be safe in online environments. "We should be teaching people how to think critically about what they see and hear. And we should apply that to virtually everything that we see and hear. It takes work to do that, but it produces a better outcome than simply running down some conspiracy theory and following the crowd." 

Communication, whether it's digital or not, is essential for a flourishing society

"Communication is essential for a society to flourish," says Cerf. "Listening is the other half of speaking. If you can’t listen, if you’re too busy trying to figure out what you’re going to say next, then you don’t have conversation. And in the absence of conversation, you don’t really have any ability to come to common ground."

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by writer/producer Tavia Gilbert. Featuring: Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and writer / producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.