What does it mean to be a Technological Citizen?


The Technological Citizen is a blog to promote reflection and dialogue about ethical issues in modern technology.  It was inspired by a class I took called “Science, Technology, and Society”, which encouraged me to take a step back from all the technologies that both directly and indirectly affect our lives and examine with a critical eye how they were influencing us.  How do the technological gadgets we use each day affect the way we communicate with each other, and the way we engage with the world around us?  How will advancements in medical, environmental, and biotechnology shape our future, and what ethical questions do they raise?  The questions were far-reaching and complex, but felt vitally important to address.

An essay we read called “Children of Invention Revisited” by Morton Winston stood out to me in particular.  In it, Winston writes that as people living in the 21st century who are touched by technology in all aspects of our lives, we must become “technological citizens” who are actively engaged in shaping the course technology takes, instead of passively watching technology develop.

“If we fail as individuals to exercise these rights,” he writes,  “that is, if we shirk our responsibilities as technological citizens—it is likely that others will end up making these decisions for us.  (But) if we accept the responsibility to educate ourselves about the issues and to participate in the public conversations about them, then we will have some voice in how things will be decided and some control over the future directions that our technological society will take.”

I found Winston’s point compelling, because technologies are often developed and disseminated into society at a rate that exceeds our ability -or at times, our willingness- to engage in reflective conversations about them.  I think a key aspect of technological citizenship is to thus step back and thoughtfully examine the ethical uses and implications of the technologies we employ.  My goal with The Technological Citizen is to provide a forum to do just this, by creating a place to explore and reflect on ethical issues in technology.  A guiding theme unifying the blog topics is one that Winston raises in his essay: “Questions about whether to use products of technology or how such products should be used are ethical questions; that is, they are questions concerning what we ought to do rather than about what we can do.” In other words, we must ask, Just because we can do something with technology, does it mean we should?

Ethical discussions on these topics will fall under five basic categories:

  • Technology and Society
  • Technology and The Environment
  • Neuroethics
  • Ethical Issues in Health and Biotechnology
  • The Future of Technology

Each post will feature a comments section in order to promote thoughtful and reflective dialogue.

Thanks for stopping by!  If you have any questions or topics you’d like to see featured on the blog, please e-mail TheTechnologicalCitizen@gmail.com.

-Courtney, Hackworth Fellow ’09-’10

3 Responses to “About”

  1. Sabrina Brutocao says:

    Multi-tasking is the execution of more than one program or task, simultaneously. With the emergence of PDAs and smart phones, today’s society has become infatuated with this multi-tasking concept. iPhones and Blackberry’s enable users to send emails, check stock prices, and bank online, among thousands of other functions. Businesses like apple tout the ability of such devices to increase user efficiency. But how much do consumers really benefit? Are we really more efficient, as advertisers claim? Or, do such devices provide more of a distraction than anything else?
    The article “ Media Multi-tasking and the Good Life” discusses the logistics of multi-tasking and human functioning. Due to PDA, smart phones and other electronics we aren’t really present, in conversations and daily tasks bring awareness to the logistics of performing more than one task at a time. Kendra describes the irony of the definition when she argues that society
    In the 2010 report from a research seminar, “The Impacts of Media Multitasking on Children’s Learning and Development,“ Claudia Wallis supports the ideas present in the previous article. She discusses a study that was done by Lori Bergen in which she demonstrated that people retain less information from a CNN broadcast that includes a news crawl at the bottom of the screen than from one that doesn’t.
    In general, our society has grown incapable of being present: both in our interpersonal relationships and in our daily tasks. We are constantly evaluating if what we’re doing is as important as other things on our minds. In conversations and working on tasks alike, we often think of other things we have to do. This tendency inhibits our ability to focus and accomplish anything in an efficient manner. But the bigger issue that this trend presents is that we aren’t truly extracting any valuable knowledge. As evidenced in the CNN example, we see how people aren’t taking away as much information from the broadcast when presented with additional information to process at the bottom of the screen. Personally, I have observed a similar truth in conversations with friends. When I am responding to a text on my phone while attempting to listen to a friends concern, I find that at the end of the conversation I haven’t fully understood what he/she communicated to me. Unfortunately, despite society’s recognition of this reality, we still operate under the misconception that multi-tasking helps us to get more done in one setting than simply focusing on one thing at a time.

  2. gbricker says:

    The article “Our Cell Phone Culture” discusses how cell phones have become such an integral part of society that it is difficult to imagine a time without them. As our dependency on cell-phones grows, so does our inability to merely be by ourselves. As a technological generation, many of us are unable to walk down the street or sit alone without playing with our phones, in attempt to no longer feel alone or perhaps to fill a need to feel productive. Cell phones and other devices have brought our generation a feeling of need to be constantly connected to our friends and family; thus, we are not used to ever being truly alone. We can no longer enjoy the beauty of a warm summer’s day or peace of a crisp winter’s morning by ourselves because of our need to be interconnected. With the invention of smart-phones, cell-phones can now go above and beyond merely chatting and texting with others. We can play games, watch movies or shows, look up information, directions, send e-mails etc. In my opinion, all of these technological options on our cell phones increase our inability to be alone and to even be with others. In my own experience, I have many friends who are constantly checking their phones our playing games while we are out to dinner or having a conversation. In this way, cell phones detract from real life because some people have become so dependent on their cell phones, they are unable to truly have a one on one, face to face, conversation with another person.
    However, cell phones also have the power to connect us with thousands of others in a way that might have never been possible. Cell phones have recently greatly impacted the political world. Revolutions have been planned and executed around the world using cell phones and other technological means. A few examples of this recent technological power have been used in the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Thailand. Not all of these protests were successful, but all used cell phones and social media to gain thousands of supporters for their different causes. In Clay Shirky’s 2011 essay published by the Council of Foreign Relations, “The Political Power of Social Media Technology, the Public Sphere, and Politic Change” he states, “social media is as long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere.” He goes on to say that technology can be used to organize protests, spread knowledge about the politic world, and help spread awareness about different politic movements and factions. In this regard I believe that cell phone use can actually physically bring people together instead of isolating them from others who are physically nearby. While some of us may use cell phones to avoid contact with those in the same room us, others may use cell phones to physically meet with people with similar ideas and beliefs and to make a change in the world. In my opinion, a cell phone is a tool. A tool that can be used to isolate your self from those you are physically near, a tool to easily communicate with family and friends, a tool to multitask, and a tool to make change happen.

  3. […] Hackworth, C. (2010). What does it mean to be a Technological Citizen? Retrieved from http://thetechnologicalcitizen.com/?page_id=2 […]

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