iPhone, iPad, iCan('t): Our Moral Dilemma with Technology

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

This is the first installment in a two part series on technology. 

Shared Justice is a publication that is written by, and directed towards, young Christian adults seeking to integrate their faith with the way in which they live in this world—and in particular, with political issues. Given this youthful base, we might safely assume a level of technological savviness among the reader base. 20 and 30 somethings tend to rapidly adapt to new technology with ease, often embracing the productivity or connectedness that it brings to our lives without much reflection.

Up to this point in my life, I have often behaved in accordance with this generational knack for adaptation, growing up in an era where personal computers became the norm, rather than a novelty, in American homes. Switching my desktop based computing to more mobile technology in recent years was not difficult, because learning how to operate new technologies comes quite natural to those whose lives have been marked by ubiquitous technology.

Thus, I was alarmed a few weeks ago when I read Newsweek’s recent cover article on “tweens” and their increasing exposure to explicit sexual material at a young age via social media, leading them to dress and act like those that are much older than them. My alarm was produced by various unsettling feelings.  First, I am relatively sure the habits the article describe did not happen among girls when I was 10, or at the least, I was unaware of their occurrence. Second, the article provoked the morbid thought that our world is increasingly morally devoid, and it created severe apprehension over the thought of attempting to raise children when technology might so easily corrupt them. Finally, the article immediately made apparent my lack of knowledge regarding certain social media outlets and trends, provoking worries that I am 24 and already losing touch with our world’s rapid pace of change.

Such were my initial reactions. But as I have reflected on the breakneck transformation that technology is currently creating in our world, I have realized that it is important for Christians to understand these changes, what they mean for both our society and our economy, and how we ought to respond.

To begin, the rapid technological change now characterizing our world means that we are more interconnected and dependent upon technology for both our production and our communication. This shifting nature of our world threatens to provoke some worrying shifts in our economy and our society beyond my worries above. For example:

  1. The Economist recently noted that in the short term, the rapid expansion and utilization of new technologies will likely eliminate many lower wage and middle class jobs, and further concentrate the means of production among the world’s richest. This will exacerbate already worrying inequality and limit opportunity among those with lower levels of education.
  2. Technology may upend both social norms and development processes. The Newsweek article I pointed to earlier certainly suggests such a trend: Kids learn about sex younger, have access to more explicit material, and especially in the case of girls (according to the article), may fall into gendered norms of what it means to dress “sexily.” Cyberbullying among youth also represents a growing problem caused by the advent of social media, and undoubtedly affects many children’s development.
  3. Aspects of human life that we would identify as important for human flourishing, such as privacy, may be undermined by the invasive nature of technology, both through outside surveillance and the social pressures exerted to utilize social media and other communications forms propagated by technology’s spread.

This all sounds a bit disconcerting. We probably have not spent much time reflecting upon the large social upheaval that technology will, and already has, caused in our society. In fact, for the most part, we may simply notice its positive (or negative, depending on one’s perspective) effects in our lives, whether that be increased productivity or better communication and opportunities to know what is occurring in our world.

But if technology causes social, political, and economic harms like those mentioned above, how should Christians respond and regard these inexorable changes?

Check back next Tuesday for part two of our series on the moral dilemma of technology.

-Aaron Korthuis currently works for the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras on issues of citizen security. He graduated from Whitworth University in 2012, and will begin his legal studies at Yale Law School in the fall of 2014.