“Such is the fate of all who are greedy for money; it robs them of life.” Proverbs 1:19 (NLT)
There are many things sought through technology: money, knowledge, fame, fortune, community, and more. We can argue again and again over whether or not technology is inherently bad. Recently, people in the Middle East have embraced technologies like Facebook and Twitter as pathways to freedom. But only a short time ago, social media was on trial for its role in cyber bullying. It returns us to the question of whether or not the medium is the message (Marshall McLuhan). However, before we even dig into that question, there is another very basic question to answer: “Is technology ill-gotten gain?” Meaning, have we gained technology at the undue expense of someone or something else?
Let’s define our terms so we are on the same page. By gain, I mean getting something we did not have before. By ill-gotten, I am focusing primarily on the idea of hurting others to get something. Technology, for the sake of this discussion, refers to Information Technology, such as computers, cell phones, and the Internet.
So, what are the gains of technology? Trans-continental communication (wow!), better tracking of weather patterns, a wealth of knowledge that’s only a few seconds away, jobs, and more. As we get into the specifics of what technology offers, the list of gains can grow as fast as the Internet itself. But, what hurts have these gains caused?
There are two categories of hurt that come to mind for me: production and society. The production of certain electronic components is very hurtful. Production requires resources. One of these resources is coltan. The profits from its mining help fund war in the Congo (read more at http://www.cellular-news.com/coltan/). Shouldn’t this be enough for me to curb my consumption of technology? Will the day come when cell phones are labeled as “blood” cell phones, as Brian McLaren once suggested to me?
On the societal side of hurt, we have cyber bullying, the loss of attention spans, a growing reliance on working electricity, loss and forfeiture of privacy, intensifying addictions to gambling, shopping, and pornography, and the marginalization of those who do not understand technology. This list could also go on and on. Do these hurts qualify technology for ill-gotten gain?
We might say technology is not the problem. Rather, it is the production and use. So, how will we change it? We cannot erase the history of technology, but can we make its production and use clean and guiltless? I say we try.
The question I need to answer for myself in the meantime is “Should I stop using technology that is not verified as guiltless?” Currently, this would equate to ALL technology. Yet, here I am… blogging.