Most of my life I’ve had an admittedly somewhat idealistic outlook towards “technology” and “progress.” That is to say, I kind of saw the two as going hand-in-hand. Technology (computers, software, the Internet, etc.) allowed us to do things that weren’t possible before, connecting us and making the whole world more interconnected, interdependent, and aware of itself. This, I thought, could only lead to an improvement in our lives – we’d be more connected and less divided, and we’d be able to share information more easily to the benefit of us all. (My early involvement in Wikipedia was largely due to this belief.)
Basically, I saw technology in general (and computers specifically) as a force for good.
However, recently I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. Technology is not a force, it is a tool – and like any tool it can be used for both good and ill. The choice of how it is used remains, as ever, with the people using it.
I used to think (and I guess I still kind of do think) that the nature of the tool of technology would tend to encourage those using it towards “good” uses, but in recent years I’ve come to realize this isn’t as true as I thought it was (or would like to think it is).
With corporations making so many of the decisions regarding technology these days (and with corporations having no morals, as I’ve talked about before), the uses of technology are increasingly trending towards immoral uses. Instead of spreading information for the good of all, we’re using technology to collect information for the benefit of advertising and manipulating opinions. Instead of sharing knowledge, we’re locking knowledge away behind patents and copyrights, and only sharing pictures and short-lived memes. Instead of heading towards a bright future for all, we’re headed towards a dark corporate-controlled dystopia (where you can buy your bright future, or at least a bright future device, if you are one of the few people that can afford it).
More than ever, we need to consider the way we use technology, and not just from the technical standpoint or the immediate use-case. Instead, we need to consider the ethical uses of technology – both how it can be used, and how it can be abused. Our optimism towards technology must be tempered by the reality of the experiences we’ve had with that technology.
I still remain hopeful, and I still believe technology can be that thing that lifts us to a higher ideal – but I no longer see that as inevitable; rather it is, as with all things, a choice that we must consciously make.