Does technology corrupt morality?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is that it’s not so cut and dry.

Technology is a tool. When a new piece of technology comes into being, it is inherently stateless. By stateless, I mean that there is no intrinsic bias.

The resulting bias is not because of the technology itself, but in the way that it is used. It is that usage that causes morality to drift in any given society.

I will use the internet and its most prominent and socially relevant offshoot, social media as my examples.

In 1958 ARPA was created by the Eisenhower administration as a response to the Sputnik launch (Taubman, 2021). Shortly after, in 1966, the ARPANET project was initiated(ARPANET, 2021). ARPANET was intended for academic and military use. Indeed it allowed research laboratories around the world to share data easily. Most famous of which, I think, are the collaborations between CERN and other nuclear research facilities. Bias had not yet crept into the early internet. In the 1980s, ARPANET evolved into the National Science Foundation Network or NSFNET(NSFNET, 2021). The network was still free of bias at this point, until 1989 when Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was working at CERN at the time, proposed the first version of HTML (The birth of the web, 2021). The first browser and server software became available in late 1990, and the public specification became available in 1991. The commercial and consumer face of the internet exploded into existence. Berners-Lee has the unchallenged title of the father of the World Wide Web. It is at this point when the internet started becoming commercial, that bias creep went into overdrive. It is that bias which changes the cloth of morality.

Without that foundation, social media would never have been created, and it is social media that allows people to voice their own biases, find people with similar biases, and try to influence others into sharing those biases with little to no regard of how damaging or dangerous those biases are.

The social media platforms themselves are not inherently immoral, because there is no inherent bias in the technology.

The moral shift in the use of social media began with the first social media platforms, though before 1995, social media was a small niche (Timeline of social media, 2021). In 1996 ICQ was launched. I think that was the zero point from which social media started fanning out and becoming a global phenomenon. Suddenly people were not limited to their group of peers. You were suddenly presented with a method of talking to random people from around the world by filling in search criteria and clicking a button. It could also be argued that this period of the internet is when spam invaded social media.

The moral shift of western society, exacerbated by social media technologies is, I think, best viewed in the years 2008–2020, where it has been the most extreme since the first concepts of the internet were laid down in the 1960s. Modern social media has pitted brother against brother, sister against sister, parents against children. It has added fuel to the embers of a long-simmering civil war. It has enabled the formation and mobilization of neo-fascism. All of which are objectively immoral.

It has allowed the creation and propagation of misinformation and flat out lies.

As the pinned post on my Twitter feed reads

Given all the false information and conspiracy nutjobs on the internet, I will continue to maintain that the internet is a privilege and not a basic human right.

I will continue to maintain this stance until such time that people use it responsibly.

So does technology corrupt morality? No, the users do. Technology is just a great enabler.

There is another discussion to be had regarding technology, Section 230 of the FCC and First Amendment rights in America, but that is a discussion for another time.

References

ARPANET. (2021, January 30). Retrieved from Computer Hope: https://www.computerhope.com/jargon/a/arpanet.htm

NSFNET. (2021, January 30). Retrieved from Computer Hope: https://www.computerhope.com/jargon/n/nsfnet.htm

Taubman, P. (2021, January 30). Dwight D Eisenhower Memorial Comission. Retrieved from Webarchive: https://web.archive.org/web/20101027163454/http://eisenhowermemorial.org/onepage/IKE%20%26%20Science.Oct08.EN.FINAL%20%28v2%29.pdf

The birth of the web. (2021, January 30). Retrieved from CERN: https://home.cern/science/computing/birth-web

Timeline of social media. (2021, January 30). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_social_media

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