Saturday, April 16, 2005

Column on Dissing Liberating Technologies

Machan is R. C. Hoiles Professor of business ethics at Chapman University,
Orange, CA. He is research fellow at the Hoover Institution and advises
Freedom Communications, Inc., on libertarian issues.

----- Original Message -----

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 8:32:23 AM
Tibor's Forum
From: Tibor R. Machan
Subject: Column on Dissing Liberating Technologies
To: Columns

Dissing Liberating Technology

Tibor R. Machan

The phenomenon is recurring, so you might think why bother with it again.
But as with many other matters, when they recur, it is good to pay them
renewed heed.

I noticed in a recent issue of Newsweek Magazine that some editor decided
to report on a bunch of people who had recently met at a conference and
demonstrated much trepidation about bloggers. In fact it was a group of
mainstream journalists showing their concern that they may be losing their
audience, now that blogging has become big throughout the world wide web.
But instead of saying outright, ?We are worried about our jobs,? the
journalists whose concerns were reported couched their beef in terms of
politics and social justice. The problem you see is, some of them cried:
most bloggers are white and male. So, clearly, the forum is biased in the
most horrible way: it discriminates against minorities. Or perhaps not.

I don?t know if this complaint has any merit to it?the piece in Newsweek
gave no solid evidence. Moreover it didn?t mention at all what
significance there could be to the absence of minorities from the blog
world. Maybe members of these minorities do not want to be on the Internet
much, just as I do not want to mess with digital cameras, even though it
is the rage (Circuit City people tell me they sell 90 digital to one old
fashioned camera).

More importantly, nothing in the Newsweek piece mentioned the incredibly
wide range of viewpoints in the blogging community (to which I, by the
way, do not belong other than to check some out when I am asked to). From
what I am aware of, there appears to be great diversity among bloggers of
just the kind that should matter to people, namely, diverse ethical,
religious, political, economic and related perspectives. Why care about
the rest? Why is it so important to track whether women, blacks, those of
Italian or Hungarian background choose to blog? What should matter, if
anything, is whether people with different things to say take advantage of
the medium.

All the fuss about blogging isn?t everything that?s being done to diss
liberating technology. The March 20th issue of The New York Times Magazine
published a missive, ?Bad Connections,? by Christine Rosen?a fellow at the
Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington?complaining that cell phones
and such ?have put us out of touch with the manners and mores of public
life.? All in all, this lament, coming it as it must from someone who
finds individualism naughty and collectivism nice, is in line with the
know-nothing tradition of anti-technology. Ms. Rosen in fact begins her
belly-aching by recalling the invention of the mirror in the 16th Century
and noting how it has spawned egotism and vanity (forgetting that it also
helps dentistry, as an example, as well as safe driving).

And that is just the point: most inventions can be used well or badly.
There is no guarantee that no one will abuse something that was invented
to be helpful. In the case of cell phones and computers there are
innumerable ways they can be made to serve perfectly good ends as well as
lousy ones?just consider how emailing and instant messaging can keep
families in far better touch than having to write letters and wait for the
mail to deliver them and how smut has spread by it all, as well. I noticed
some of this with my own children who were quite adapt, early in their
lives, at typing and even spelling, not to mention the right use of words,
because they began using email and IM when quite young.

Ms. Rosen, of course?coming as she does from a mainstream ethics center
that is guided by the altruism and self-denial ethics that academic ethics
has been promulgating for centuries?doesn?t like that being called on
one?s mobile phone in public may make a person feel a bit self-important.
My-my, that is just intolerable. (Never mind that much of the
psychological and pedagogical profession is concerned with instilling
greater self-esteem in young people, encouraging them all to be feeling
better about themselves.)

I say to technological innovation, bring it all on! We will do fine
sorting out the good and bad uses of it without the churlishness of the
likes of the people Newsweek chose to report on or Christine Rosen?s nay
saying. Just because the manners and mores of olden times may become
somewhat moot, it doesn?t follow that new manners and mores of merit will
not be forthcoming.

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