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)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1773-5.ch004


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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Five Technology Traps

The Incompetence Trap

When technologies do what people could do themselves, there is little or no opportunity or incentive for people to learn and maintain the skills that the technologies embody. Thus, such technologies can “deskill” users, rob them of manual and cognitive skills, erode self-efficacy (i.e., beliefs that one can successfully perform a task), and increase dependence on tools and technical experts (Kipnis, 1991).

Everyday life is filled with technologies that take over skills that people could master themselves. For example, alarm clocks automate the task of awakening at a target time, with the result that users feel incompetent at self-awakening and are completely dependent on the devices (Crabb, 2003). Use of automatic cameras similarly robs people of opportunities to develop photographic skills, and routine use of ready-to-eat foods prevents people from learning how to cook (Stern & Kipnis, 1993).

The transfer of skills and self-efficacy from person to machine has a variety of costs. The routine use of electronic calculators to solve math problems results in more negative moods, decreased motivation, and more negative attitudes toward math than doing math problems with paper and pencil (Stern, Alderfer, & Cienkowski, 1998). In industrial settings, automation often creates conditions that are less satisfying and more tedious than skilled manual work (Blauner, 1964; Chadwick-Jones, 1969; Persson et al., 2003).

Technical knowledge and skills themselves become trivialized by automated technologies that only require that users know the proper sequence of pushing buttons (Fromm, 1955; Shaffer, 1981; Skinner, 1986). People do not understand how everyday technologies work (Bandura, 1995), and all that is required is that they know how to use the device and when it is time to throw it away.

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