This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
“What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?”
“What habits will the use of this technology instill?”
“What feelings does the use of this technology generate in me toward others?”
A couple of weeks ago a friend forwarded me a blog article titled, “The Questions Concerning Technology” by L.M. Sacasas.
Sacasas, who writes about the intersection between tech, culture, psychology, and ethics, came up with a list of 41 questions that not only provide food for thought about the technology we use in our daily lives, but also about how we as individuals as well as society as whole are affected by them.
He poses touchy-feely questions like:
What will the use of this technology encourage me to notice? What was required of the earth so that I might be able to use this technology? What are the potential harms to myself, others, or the world that might result from my use of this technology?
As a software developer by trade and an avid tech user, I am ashamed to admit that I rarely stop and think if any of the tech I use day to day matches my values. I am usually just focused on how tech helps me be more efficient.
So, when I attempted to run through the questions that Sacasas suggests that we pose to ourselves, I was surprised by some of my own answers. Here are just a few things I learned about myself when I put the tech I use most often to the test.
- My smartphone camera has made me appreciate nature more. I find myself taking pictures of things that in the past I would never have noticed. But, at the same time, cameras in smartphones make me more anxious about my own appearance.
- Social media helps me to both be more connected to my friends and more jealous of them.
- Zoom meetings save me time, which aligns with my goal of spending more time with my family. However, too much video conferencing makes me tired, unable to be fully engaged during my newfound time.
But of course, more important than analyzing my own tech-value alignment, many of the 41 questions focus on how tech affects the world in general.
As tech makes us more efficient has it also made us more sedentary? Is too much tech a risk to our health? Has tech made it too easy for bad actors to spread harmful disinformation? Will the energy consumption or disposal of all our devices eventually ruin the planet?
For any given technology, the question whether it’s a net gain or net loss for society or for each of us as individuals is tough to say. What is important though, is that with new life-changing tech coming out almost daily, perhaps we should ask ourselves questions other than just, “How will this benefit me?”