APPLY ETHICS WHEN USING TECHNOLOGY
Technoethics, or the written and unwritten codes of practice in dealing with technology, is becoming imperative as we wantonly move towards the Information age. This is due to the fact that the rapid development of technology is not only affecting changes in human thought and behaviour, but also stirring up new ethical issues and moral dilemmas.
The human culture is growing more mechanised. We wake up, eat, work and sleep according to the dictates of the machines that are supposed to make our lives easier than those of our grandparents’. Computer chips have been incorporated into everyday objects ever since the introduction of the integrated circuits in the late 1950s.
It has been said that today, an average home might have 40 chips in the different appliances, from washing machines to television sets to alarm clocks. And imagine having to go through a day at the office without the help of the good old computer!
In view of the growing dominance of technology, the twentieth century man has been considered as a “sorcerer’s apprentice” who is becoming a slave of his erstwhile servant. This is the opinion of a lobby of intellectual s who feel uncomfortable about the growing impact of modem technology on our life.
They suggest that technological progress is getting out of hand, and developing according to its own immanent laws. It seems that machines for example, are reshaping man to their own images of stiffness, exactness and soullessness. According to them, technology has become “natural” to man so much so that he can been referred to as techno, rather than homo sapiens.
However, the other school of thought argue that the perspective which personifies technology as an autonomous agent with mythological properties, is a creation of humanists who have very little insight into the structures of the technological order.
Far from being an intruder endangering man in his humanity, technology in the broad sense of the word, is one of the most fundamental characteristics which define man within the family of living beings.
Unlike animals which are defined by the harmonious way their organs and functions are related to the environment, man largely lacks such a grandiose relationship. His survival cannot depend on instinctive reactions only. He has to learn to react and deal with new situations all the time.
And he can successfully do this by creating an artificial environment for himself. He therefore needs the technological milieu in order to survive. In fact, with technology, man is in a position to provide a decent living conditions for many, if not all, life forms on earth.
It cannot be denied that technology also provides the platform for man to destroy the living environment in an irreversible way for all mankind, and maybe all life on our planet. The recent intransigence of a south Asian nation in flexing its nuclear muscles is a case in point.
Nevertheless, as has been repeatedly stressed, technology is a mere tool. It is neutral and has no internal criteria of self-regulation. Technology also does not exist in a vacuum but within the context of a given culture with beliefs and accepted values, presumably based on religious prescriptions. The ability to make decisions pertaining to the use of technology by referring to the religious criteria is what technoethics is all about.
One of the most prominent aspects of information technology is the global communication network, represented by the Internet. Besides information, person-to-person communication in the forms of electronic mailing systems and chat groups are also available.
With its wide-reaching capability, the Internet is not only used to retrieve information, but also to add information to the world communication network. One can find in it, a plethora of input and experiences from thousands of people of various cultures, creeds and religions.
Basically the Internet caters for two groups of users, the information providers and information consumers. Thus, technoethics of the Internet, commonly referred to as netiquette, has to be looked at from the two perspective separately.
As information providers, users need to be responsible in disseminating the truth. This is evidently lacking in the global communication network. There are huge numbers of websites propagating immoral activities, lies and character assassinations.
As a result, all kinds of scandals and slanders are circulating in cyberspace. Electronic poison letters are also rampant. This is despite some of the writers and senders themselves c1aiming to be deeply religious. Even the use of abusive language is justified on the basis of defending the ir religious conviction.
The freedom of expression is sometimes taken to such an extent so as to invade other people’s privacy. How many times have you found unsolicited electronic mails forwarded to you by those who do not have the guts to reveal his or her real identity? Very often, I am sure. Well, to these phantom providers, please have a thought for technoethics.
Frankly, without a proper perspective on the good and bad sides of the global communication network, information consumers are at the mercy of the unscrupulous providers.
The lure of the on-line pornography is tremendous. Many spend hours daily surfing the Internet for erotic picture s and stories without realising that they are wasting their time and money. The worst part is that sometimes it is not of their own, but rather, their department’s or company’s. The addictive nature of the pornographic material s would make them want to log on and on to the global network.
As for children, a new sordid phenomenon is unfolding on the Internet, via the chat rooms. It has been reported recently that cyber-paedophiles and child-molesters are prowling these discussion groups. They would insert themselves into the groups by furnishing a respectable biodata, and slowly enticing the youngsters to indulge in sexually explicit discussions.
So parents beware! Do not think that once you leave your children in front of the computer terminal, they are safe from corrupt external influences. They are not. The virtual prowlers can get into their bedrooms. The jungle is not necessarily out there anymore. Now it is right in our homes.
There is also no substitute for taking good care of your young ones. Guidance and supervision is still an indispensable part of proper child-upbringing. Try to inculcate technoethics into them. Let them have some kind of a shield. The best form of technoethics is the one based on a strong faith in religion.
Thus as far as information technology is concerned, parents have to be one step ahead of their children. They must somehow monitor the information gleaned by their children. The Holy Quran commands in Surah Al Hujurat, verse 6, “O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you, with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly”.
Decades ago, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote a letter to his Japanese friend which was reproduced in the Yomiuri newspaper. In it he expressed his concern that none of today’s cultural traditions possesses the means to cope effectively with the challenges posed by the expanding modem technology.
It does not matter whether you are living in a western, modernised society or eastern, developing society. There is simply no culture suited to tackle the technological onslaught. What we can do is to responsibly monitor what is taking place in the present-day society, and interpret it in the light of our religious and cultural traditions.
For a Muslim, this implies the willingness to internalise the Quranic messages that man has been created not to indulge in his vain desires for this would stray him from the straight and guided path. He is a representative of Allah on earth and is ultimately responsible for any forms of destruction, physical or moral.
The Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia is organising a seminar, which among others, will deliberate on the issue of technoethics. The seminar entitled “Multimedia and Islam” will be held on May 26-27, 1998 at IKIM’s Grand Hall. Members of the public are invited to participate.