The Ethics of Technology


Last year in my ethics class, I came across some readings on technology and ethics. It was an interesting topic and one I have continued to consider. In our technological age, it is imperative to consider the impact of technology and how people can pursue an ethical life within this age.

For the most part, technology is considered very narrowly in regards to ethics. A common view of technology is that it functions as a tool, meaning that it performs a function, and people use it to accomplish certain tasks. In this view, technology is ethically neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It can only be used for good or bad purposes. People use and control the tool, not the other way around.

There have been several authors, like Neil Postman, Albert Borgmann and Jacques Ellul, who have pointed out that technology has a greater impact on society than a mere tool. It changes the way we act, the way we think, and even our character. Along with all its “advances,” it brings equally disturbing negative aspects to our culture. Sounds ominous, right? Well, consider a few items.

We often look at the things that technology can give us. It can let us do things faster, more efficiently and with less effort. We rarely consider any negative effects that it introduces at the same time. For all the benefits it offers, one could argue that we live busier, more hectic, more stressful lives today. Social interaction has diminished, taking away a sense of community along with it. We think in sound bytes today, and demand the quick answer. The idea of saving and slowly working toward a goal is “old fashioned.” We have been conditioned to demand immediate gratification without having to work for it. Above all, we must be entertained. We live in a world of anonymity and loneliness. All of this may sound far fetched to some, but these are real aspects of our technological society.

Does this mean I think we should become anti-technological hermits who live without electricity? Not quite. What I am saying is that the use of technology should be intentional, and there should be awareness of how it affects life.

When considering whether to get that new iWhatever, don’t just consider all the amazing things it can do. Consider its cost as well, and not just in terms of money. Ask questions about the cost in terms of a way of life and how it affects what is truly important in life. Will your life truly be better for having it? How much time will it monopolize? Will it take away time from what is truly important? How addicting is it? Will it change the way you interact with people? Now, you may answer that it is worth it, and that doesn’t make you immoral. But, if you have asked these questions, it may affect the way that you use it, the limits that you place on its use, and your expectations for what it will deliver.

There must also be greater effort given to those facets of life that technology tends to overwhelm. So, take “fasts” from gadgets occasionally, go for a walk outside in nature, spend time with your family, go visit people and actually speak with them face to face.

If you are interested in any further reading, here’s a few fascinating books to consider. I’ve read some of them but not all of them. I hope to get to the ones I haven’t read yet.

  • Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman; Postman argues that television has changed the way we think and turned our social discourse into entertainment.
  • Technopoly, by Neil Postman; Postman considers the prevalence of technology in our society, and he suggests that we have become subservient to the technology.
  • The Technological Society, by Jacques Ellul, John Wilkinson, and Robert K. Merton; the authors consider the effect technology inevitably has on society.
  • Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology, by Albert Borgmann; Borgmann argues that technology claims a way of life that is antithetical to the basic claims of the gospel (at least what I could tell from Amazon reviews; I haven’t read this one  yet).
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6 Responses to The Ethics of Technology

  1. luke douthitt says:

    Even as I type these comments on my “smartphone,” I would give it all up in a heartbeat for a slower pace of life.

    • jnsweets says:

      I know the feeling, Luke. I feel like so many of us share that chaotic lifestyle. I keep thinking that if I make myself more aware of it, I can at least try to combat it in some little way. Simplicity and a slower pace of life is certainly something I need. When I’m going non-stop, sometimes I feel like I’m letting the good things in life fly by. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Kathy says:

    I totally agree. Now I don’t feel so bad about my computer illiteracy!

  3. Pingback: Counting the Cost | Theological Sweets

  4. Pingback: Top 11 Posts from 2011 | Theological Sweets

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