Daily Archives: June 19, 2012

Changing morality to fit the technology

I came across a post tonight by a professor at the University of Georgia. He uses his response to a recent post on the NPR blog All Songs Considered as an opportunity to talk about the ethics of downloading music without paying for it. It’s a long, but good post. He makes a better argument, I think, than most posts on this topic, which normally come across as bitter and degrading if not threatening. This post tries to show respect for the NPR post’s author, intern Emily White, without backing down from his position, which is nice.

I thought the post went beyond most other arguments in its second section, which started like this:

Now, having said all that, I also deeply empathize with your generation. You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards. Sadly, I see the effects of this thinking with many of my students.

That’s an idea that intrigues me. Technology changes us in both obvious and subtle ways. There’s no doubt of that. In a completely unrelated conversation, my wife and I were talking tonight about how the advent of technology (in the form of cars and washing machines) has effected a decrease in physical fitness, for example. Outside of predominantly Christian circles, though, I don’t see a lot written about morality shifts tied to technology (though to be fair, I’m not going out and looking for it). Maybe that’s because morality is becoming more of a grey area in a time when individuals are encouraged to do “what feels right to you” rather than meet an objective standard (no matter the source of that standard).

I’ll be honest – I struggle with the issue of downloading stuff. Not music (except through Spotify, which, until I read this article, was a method I thought fairly compensated the artists – more to look into there), but episodes of TV. If I missed an episode of a show I watched regularly, I used to download them. I stopped doing that a couple of years ago, through a confluence of events, and now rely on Hulu and Xfinity/OnDemand to meet my time-shifting needs. When those fail me (why in the world would Cartoon Network refuse to provide 3 weeks of episodes in the middle of building to a climax at the end of a season? It’s like they’re daring me to go get them!) I seriously struggle with how easy it would be for me to go grab them from a download site.

It’s an oversimplification to say that technology has caused the wavering of my moral compass on this, but I can say that it certainly enables it. As countless sci-fi authors have warned, however, just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. I try to teach that to my kids, and if I’m not living by it what kind of father does that make me?