A few months ago, I posted a rant on Facebook complaining about the advertisements of one of my favorite companies. The company is called Canonical. And they make a product called Ubuntu. Ubuntu’s Cringe-worthy advertising is an unimportant point in this discussion. Through Facebook, I came to realize something rather alarming. That my friends, both young and old, were unaware of my commitment to Living my Digital Life following With purpose. Following the values of solidarity, subsidiarity, and community. This was startling enough that a few of the public and private comments received also indicated many people were unaware even of the concept of Technoethics.
Despite the tireless advocacy of thousands of people, including myself for the past 32 years, few people not associated with the computer industry are even aware that technoethics is a thing. And my experience in the corporate world has shown but even among those aware of Linux and the free software movement, some who are even longtime Linux users themselves are not completely aware of the moral and ethical commitments that a large and influential minority of Linux users bear. The consequences of this go far beyond disrespect and inadvertent impoliteness. With the world unaware of techno ethics as a broader principle, it will become increasingly hard for those of us who practice it to do so in a sustainable way—and thus jeopardizing the ability of everyone to fight for a world built on solidarity, subsidiarity, and community In the century to come.
I was unable to find a basic primer on techno ethics written for a lay audience or What follows is my attempt to fill this Gap.
What is Technoethics
Technoethics is the application of general ethical principles to our technological choices. But more specifically it refers to the prioritization of morality over convenience in our technological choices.
Whether you know it or not you have probably already practiced techno ethics in your everyday life. For example, some parents May opt for cloth diapers over disposable for the environmental benefits, or equally other parents in a different situation might opt for disposable Over cloth to conserve scarce Water Resources. This is a common first encounter with the subject of Techno Ethics. and within the everyday consumer space, there are thousands of such decisions to be made. Organic food, non-animal-tested cosmetics, Packaging minimization, or buying local. all are, in one sense,If Technoethical choices. In each instance, the consumer exercises her Power of Choice after thinking critically About the cost and benefits of a particular technology such as factory farming or e-commerce,And for instance and chooses consciously not based on a metric of economic or convenience factors but instead on a social or moral Factor. That is techno ethics in a nutshell.
However, when the nerd(s) in your life speak of Technoethics they probably mean to apply this intentional consumption to the technological services and devices which we take for granted, things such as laptop computers, Facebook, and smartphones. Or to even more esoteric things such as farm tractor firmware, e-waste, Or planned obsolescence increasing the digital divide. we apply formal ethical principles, critical thinking, and intentional consumerism to our digital lives as well as our lives away from the keyboard.
Why should I care?
Until the global pandemic, most people could get away not caring. After all, if Facebook did something that distressed you, all you had to do was to not use Facebook. Who cared what obscure video conferencing solution you used to communicate with friends and workmates. if you even use video conferencing at all, but the global pandemic has given us all virtual lives, and simultaneously has merged them with our physical lives. What once was a niche Hobby, or futuristic gimmick from the likes of Star Trek is now very much mainstream. and this is so self-evident as to not require argumentation.
Therefore anyone with a commitment to Justice in the physical world who has benefited from high technology in any way these last six months should care about Justice in the virtual world. And there is quite a lot of Injustice in the virtual world with which to be concerned.
The digital divide has cut the urban poor off at the knees in regards to access to services for example. Improper recycling has left certain parts of Africa as a Dumping Ground for unwanted Electronics, and in turn, has fueled the growth of fraud schemes which extract millions of dollars from first-world consumers.
And let’s not forget the titans of the industry Facebook, and Twitter who through the careless application of artificial intelligence, and `innovative` business models have arguably Contributed more to political polarization than anything else.
The good news is that unlike most social problems the individual can do a lot on his or her own to affect Justice in the digital realm. All that most people are missing is the proper education and will. I can hear you objecting now. Of course, you have the education to avoid fake news on Facebook all the time it’s easy to spot or maybe you do your best To use DuckDuckGo when possible or maybe you don’t even own a social media account whatsoever seeing no point in it. all these things are good in themselves
Why do you use Zoom?!
Really why do you? Don’t say it’s because it’s convenient or it’s free. Microsoft teams, Google Meetings, Discord, and Jitsi-Meet are all just as free just as easy to use. just as convenient.
I threw away All of the lessons I have learned over the past 12 years. All of my professional skepticism. All of my critical thinking in the desperation to be with people even virtually. and what’s more, I knew I was doing it.
Why are we trusting some of our most private personal interactions with a corporation most of us know nothing about? We don’t do this in other areas of Our Lives. But when it comes to adopting new technology, almost all critical thinking, Almost all consideration of any ethical values we possess goes out the window.
Did you know in June Zoom Video Communications inc admitted to shutting down the accounts of Chinese human rights activists? And that most of their research and development is located offshore specifically in China leaving them vulnerable to pressure from the autocratic regime. That they are currently developing censorship technology will allow Chinese authorities to stop anyone within their borders from criticizing the communist regime on the zoom platform. and thus have become complicit. All of this I found out through 10 minutes of research. I can’t imagine what I would find if I were to do it properly.
I’m not trying to pick on you or Zoom specifically but merely to call out the stark truth most people don’t apply critical thinking and their decisions about how they wish to live their digital lives. we need to do better than that because our digital lives for there is no longer any distinction between Digital Life and life away from the keyboard. I’ll bet for most of you there isn’t even a keyboard anymore.
And this is the other stark truth many of us do not have the education necessary to apply techno ethics In our day-to-day lives. This is a particular failing Activists like me. The activist will issue book-length reports, write blog posts containing so much technical jargon that even people with degrees in computer science have trouble reading them. And in general do very little to expand the Community beyond the small Ivory Tower which has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years. In short, we have failed quite spectacularly at the teaching function of activism. So over the next few articles, I intend to educate you. We will explore the key issues of Technoethics today starting with surveillance capitalism, moving on to e-waste, the digital divide, and finally ending on software freedom. How the Brands and products we all love exacerbate all of these problems and what you can do about these issues. Welcome to Technoethics 101.