May 17, 2011 at 7:03 pm #130765
As some of you may know, my educational background includes degrees in philosophy and theology...which is why I was psyched to see the following question appear in our "Question Box" (check out our left side bar to find the box):
Are Ethics Keeping Up With Technology and Materialism?
Now that's a weighty topic usually reserved for the halls of colleges and seminaries. But I think it's a question that should regularly be on the minds of anyone seeking to elicit and encourage action by citizens in society...and that especially means government.
I'll never forget my "Philosophy and Technology" class back in 1995 when we grappled with the potential impact of the Internet, including ethical considerations. My professor had socialist leanings and was deeply troubled by the dehumanizing effects of technology and commercialism on humanity.
We used Don Tapscott's "Digital Economy" as the jumping off point for our discussions, and I'm fascinated now to consider how prescient Tapscott was in some of his thoughts. Here's a clip from the "Us Now" film where Don talks about corporate behavior - skip to 2:30 for the core message:
Tapscott says that transparency initiatives - namely, Open Government - basically forcing organizations to be "naked." And if they're gonna be naked, they better be buff. For Tapscott, being "buff" means bringing value and operating with values - because people will see it all...and seeing it all requires a lot of trust.
So what do you think? Are you bringing both value and values?
Or are we moving so fast that we're forgetting the ethical implications and merely using technology to manipulate human behavior?
I might even have to bring Professor Smith into this discussion. 😉
May 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm #130785
Let's start with a list of the top ethical issues. For me:
- Displacement of Humans with Tech / Robots
- Personal Time Infringement (always on)
- In-Person Human Interaction (on phones, never present to people around / with you)
May 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm #130783
What's interesting is that new technologies create whole new areas of ethics that may never have been considered before. And if there's no consensus about whether something is ethical (say, tracking a person's personal data online in order to advertise to them more effectively), can you even argue that an organization that does it is doing something wrong? What is the underlying code? Is there one? Conversely, do ethical standards have to emerge (or be decided on) in response to new/changing situations?
May 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm #130781
May 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm #130779
Aaron E. SilversParticipant
IMHO... ethics are culturally defined over time, balanced (or perhaps given drag) by history.
I think the challenge we have today is that we are more pervasively aware of subcultures and (perhaps) "derivative" ethics than we've been able to acknowledge (or been forced to acknowledge) in the past. This is an affordance of the revolution in communication technologies: not only can we see and talk to each other, anytime -- we are seeing way more of each other, all of each other, almost all the time. Technology has allowed us to overcome scarcity in terms of distance, time and the scale of interpersonal communications. We have little choice but to be presented with stuff we don't like because we're always on.
To me that pervasiveness isn't the ethical issue. How we deal with the beliefs and practices we don't agree with is. I think 40-50 years ago, ignorance was somewhat blissful because you could go your whole life and surround yourself only with a homogenous community and only rarely be exposed to something foreign. That had its negative affordances, too -- many of which are emerging at the same time there's this communications evolution which amplifies that experience.
Do our ethics change, or perhaps is there no common set of ethics that we can universally adopt? Can we learn to tolerate and recognize the cultural/ethical differences in others? That's not something currently covered in most everyone's mandatory diversity training. ; )
May 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm #130777
Stephanie - The example you use (tracking personal data for marketing) was precisely what I was thinking under "Privacy" issues. While that kind of tracking creates convenience for us in terms of companies serving us custom content and messages based on our interests, there is a gray line there in terms of their ability to manipulate our behavior via access to personal behavior trends that were never before possible. What if someone tracked our every move physically and followed us around constantly? That's stalking...and it's a crime. Virtually? That's not defined, though we all joke about cyber-stalking. Serious issue.
May 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm #130775
Aaron - Are you referring to comment walls across the web where people - due to relative anonymity coupled with ubiquitous access to diverse opinions - blast each other verbally in ways that they never would in person? That feels more like manners...but the implication there is that acceptance of that kind of behavior online could translate into cultural acceptance and new norms for in-person engagement, which leads to a (negative) societal shift in the way we relate to each other. Far less respect and dehumanization.
May 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm #130773
Aaron E. SilversParticipant
I'm thinking more in terms of political and philosophical activism (or even dogma), because focusing on the outbursts we see online belies the possibility that we have subcultures abound that might be using the same words, but saying very different things. I don't think we can tackle manners by treating it as its own thing. The root of these online flame-outs, to me, are because:
- The medium is not really conducive to a constructive dialog, because we're not communicating in a shared context of time and space; we're sharing a simulated space with no constraints on time.
- One can no longer simply be "free to believe what one wants to believe" because technology has amplified one's presence, exposing us to others (and others to us) -- even when we don't seek such attention.
- Because we keep choosing convenient mediums over appropriate mediums to dialogue about differences, we generally serve to widen the gap and raise the volume of our rhetoric, in the same way that we shout in the presence of deaf people (or people who speak a different language) in the vain hope they'll understand us if we're louder and more blunt; the end result is we generally alienate those we're probably (in our own ways) trying in good faith to communicate with.
How many text messages do we send when a phone call would clear it up? How many email games get played around the office that are manipulations of office politics when a real meeting would suffice. How many meetings do we attend for status when simple accountability of actually reading a status report would work? We do a lot of communication, often in the name of transparency, with the expectation that others need to be transparent in a way that is convenient "to me." In other words, the rules for openness and transparency are for others... they don't apply to me. Then, when we get transparency and we don't like what we see -- we overreact.
There's a great blog post (I know it's Merlin Mann, but I can't find it) about people who work in soft skills and people who work in technical fields. The idea is that people who work in soft skills learn over time to filter what comes out of their mouths but listen attentively -- embracing everything. Techies consume so much information (and maybe grew up being a little ostracized) so they learn to filter what they hear but share everything, because the speed at which information flows is key in such fields. When you put these types of people together, you get dischord because you have someone filtering what they say, which the other can detect but it invokes distrust. You also have someone with no filter talking to someone who filters out nothing of what they hear, and they're confronted with data they don't want which devalues the message and the messenger.
I wish everyone (including myself) had a background in cultural anthropology. There's a lot to be gained by asking better, richer questions of each other.
May 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm #130771
Privacy, privacy, privacy. Be it tracking people online to using data-mining, there are so many blurry lines between what is useful to provide a good user experience, gather useful information, and ensure security and what is infringing on a person's privacy.
Personal use of government-issued technology. If you have a work Blackberry, do you really only use it for work? Let's be honest, it's inconvenient to carry around 2 devices and try to keep them straight.
May 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm #130769
Yup, there was a good article in TIME on this a couple of months ago: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2058114,00.html
June 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm #130767
There are a number of colleagues from the USA involved in this -
I'll be presenting a paper there, too!
Ethics is keeping up with technology but there are two sides to the openness debate, as a business or individual do you want your transactions with government open to scrutiny by your neighbours or competitors?
Mick http://greatemancipator.com - BA in philosophy, MA in IT Managment, PhD in IT Management
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