Technology and Ethics

I am probably among the few in Italy who don’t own Smartphones! And people often wonder why. So I tell them it’s a matter of ethics. Ethics that extend to our shopping and use of technology.

In Rome a student group recently pelted iPhone clients with eggs and flour, trying to help them see their dependency. And that, according to them, big business makes fools of people by convincing them they need such status symbols. Deplorable methods to prove a point. But there is some truth to their message. And at least those students tried to evaluate the issues and not just go with the flow.

And how about us? Do we just follow along? Or do we have ethics that guide our technology purchases?

First, what are ethics?

Ethics are principles or systems of morals that define right conduct. We all have them, even if we don’t realize it. Some people’s ethics are very lax, with the attitude of, “What does it matter?” Others watch every p and q. But we all have them to some degree. We, as Christ-followers, try to follow Biblical principles in every area of life — even technology.

Secondly, in what way should our ethics affect our technology?

We don’t believe it’s about dos and don’ts which can quickly turn into legalism. Computers and cell phones are OK. But not own Smartphones, or video game systems.

But ethical guidelines can help us wisely choose how, and to what extent, we should embrace technology. Or any area of life, for that matter!

Questions we ask when evaluating technology:

1. Will it empower me, or control me?

Those clients in Rome waited in line up to 24 hours just to get one of the first newest model Smartphones. 24 hours for a non-essential item. Time they could have been home with their family, relaxing, or even sleeping. Unfortunately, people do become controlled by technology and by an imagined ‘need’ of it.

2. Does this purchase meet real needs or market-generated wants?

Manufacturers push the constant drive for the latest & best by creating new wants. Real needs are relatively few.

Few people have true need of continuous internet connection. Especially at the price of being disconnected from those around us and dearest to us. Or at the cost of failing to meet our responsibility toward those less fortunate than we. And toward the earth.

Do we allow manufacturers to convince us we need these items? And then that we need the best and latest? What ever happened to: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it?” Or in this case, don’t replace it!

3. Does it appropriately use resources?

We are responsible for the earth’s care. Aside from the sometimes deplorably safe production methods, how much of earth’s resources do these items deplete? How much ecological damage does the continual manufacturing of non-essential items cause?

4. Does this help me fulfill my social responsibilities?”

We’re called to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Can we do that while continually spending to fulfill an imaginary need for more? Shouldn’t our giving in this area at least come close to matching what we spend on non-essential items?

I don’t own a Smartphone, at least not yet.

And even though Mario’s students need to reach him, he did not have one either. A plain, old-fashioned (dumb) cell phone worked just fine. Until he had to change to a new SIM, which only works in smartphones. “Great,” we thought, “now they’re using even sneakier ways to get us to buy stuff we don’t need.” He now has a Smartphone he didn’t want, but had to buy.

“Well, but now he can do more with his phone,” you might say. He doesn’t really. Except to check the weather sometimes. Or look something up (rarely). It was really more an issue not only of planned obsolescence, but forced obsolescence.

And as for me, “Don’t have, but never will?” Who knows? We never know what tomorrow might bring. But we hope to continue following our code of ethics in evaluating our choices. And have enough determination to stick to our values.

‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are expedient. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be brought under the power of anything’, (1 Corinthians 6:12).

It’s really quite simple why I don’t own a Smartphone, and why to avoid unnecessary purchases. We don’t want things, or an imagined need of them, to control us. If we really need them, so be it. But for now, my need for a Smartphone does not exist. And caring for others and for God’s green earth are higher on our list of priorities.

We’re not about to hand our money (which is really God’s anyway) over any too quickly.

Especially for something we don’t really need!

Resource: Stewardship as a Christian Worldview by Keith B. Miller, Ph.D.

[Image ©TheScorziellos]

2 thoughts on “Technology and Ethics

  1. Hmmm. Interesting.

    The irony is that I read it on my iPhone! (Which is a work tool, provided by my employer, because I need to check emails, write texts, read and edit documents, access bank accounts, etc, etc).

    Possibly, Sheila, it’s the attitude toward the technology rather than the tech itself that is important. Just as its the LOVE of money that is the root of all kinds of evil, not the money itself. Should we stop driving cars because some insecure people use their latest model as a status symbol and look down on others with older models? I don’t think so. And we could apply that logic to houses, clothes, shoes, vacations – nearly everything in life.

    Thanks for making us think 🙂


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gary, and I totally agree. That’s why I tried to make it clear that we haven’t gotten any (at least yet) because so far we personally don’t have any need for them!

      Like you said, it’s the attitude. No, we shouldn’t stop driving cars, buying homes, etc. But likewise, not buy a bigger home just because society says that’s the thing to do. That said, however, the person with the smaller home also shouldn’t feel superior either!

      It is a question of where is our heart? And do we think these things through and evaluate them for our ourselves, our own needs? Or just jump on board every fad?

      And thank you for making me think some more! 🙂


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