Technology Traps Who Is Responsible?

Technology Traps Who Is Responsible?

Peter B. Crabb (The Pennsylvania State University at Hazleton, USA) and Steven E. Stern (University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, USA)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/jte.2010040103

Abstract

Technologies can have harmful effects on users’ psychological health, on society, and on the environment. “Technology traps” arise when users and societies become stuck with technologies and the harmful consequences produced by these technologies. In this paper, the authors describe five technology traps: incompetence, self-miscontrol, misbehavior, techno-centrism, and environmental degradation. The authors then examine the share of ethical responsibility for these traps among end-users, businesses, and government.
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Technology Traps: Who Is Responsible?

Technologies are often ambivalent to the well-being of users and society. Despite the many benefits modern technologies have conferred on the human species, there are also costs in the form of undesirable or unexpected consequences (Ellul, 1954,1964; Perrow, 1984; Sarason, 1984; Tenner, 1996). When societies adopt technologies that produce undesirable consequences that are difficult to separate from the benefits, situations arise that resemble what Platt (1973) called social traps: “traps formally like a fish trap, where men or organizations or whole societies get themselves started in some direction or some set of relationships that later prove to be unpleasant or lethal and that they see no easy way to back out of or avoid” (p. 641). In this article, we examine a subspecies of social traps we call technology traps, characterized by the use of technologies that provide immediate benefits but that pose unavoidable longer-term costs to the well-being of individual users, society, and the planet. We describe five technology traps that plague modern society and then examine the issue of attributing responsibility for these traps.

To illustrate what we mean by technology traps, we consider cellular or mobile telephones. The perceived benefits of cell phones (mobility, immediate communication access) are accompanied by numerous costs. Cell phones cause disruptive ringing and intrusive conversations in public and in the workplace (Monk et al., 2004); they can increase the risk of having a motor vehicle accident by more than 500% (Violanti, 1998); among teenagers, they can promote addictive behavior (Baldacci, 2006), codependency (Gross, 1999), disruptions in schools (Chaker, 2007), and assault, robbery, and homicide (Leo, 2006); they have been used for taking privacy-invasive “upskirting” and “downblousing” photographs (Gostomski, 2005); they have been used to detonate roadside bombs in war zones (Cloud, 2005); they have led to the demise of the public pay telephone, thus reducing telephone access for people who do not use cell phones (Maurstad, 2003); and cell phone technology mars landscapes with unattractive transmitter towers (Brunsman, 2006) that kill millions of birds annually (Woodall, 2002). As

long as cell phones are considered “standard equipment,” individuals and society will be stuck with these undesirable side-effects. That is the essential character of technology traps.

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