As a millennial, I came of age at a time when the world was drastically changing. I got my first cell phone when I was 15 years old. It was a brick with a black and white screen. Over the next few years, I upgraded to flip phones. Then finally, when I was 22 years old, I got my first smartphone. Here was essentially a computer in my pocket that was capable of doing far more than I had ever been able to do with my old flip phones. This new piece of technology changed how I interacted with the world. I could browse the internet, watch YouTube videos, listen to music, navigate on maps, and so much more.
But, there was an aspect that I was unaware of for a time. I had viewed myself as the master using this piece of technology to shape the world around me. But, I was unaware that this smartphone was actually changing me. The more I used it, the more it shaped my habits. My posture became more slumped as I found myself hunched over my phone. I found myself with a fearful desire of being bored, because with a smartphone, I could always pull it out and look at something interesting the second I had downtime—even if it was something as short as walking from my house to my car.
I’m sure all of us who have used smartphones extensively have recognized their influence on our lives. Many have sought to detox themselves from their smartphones and regain control of their actions. People are more suspicious of tech companies who promised to make the world a better place now that they have seen how things like social media have twisted and warped how we interact with other human beings.
Technology is often seen as being a neutral force that we can consciously choose to use for good or for evil. However, I believe (along with others) that technology is constantly shaping us whether we are conscious of it or not. This reality highlights the need for ethics. We need to be proactive about ethics instead of reactive. We have seen far too many companies and individuals who have only discovered their lack of ethical standards after stumbling across certain lines.
Take Facebook, for example. 2018 was the year that the social media giant lost its luster in the eyes of many for their handling of privacy. What made it more terrible for so many is the fact that Facebook knows more about us than most of our close friends and family. The fact that they could give this information away to people without our knowledge was frightening.
This is just one example of the need for proactive ethics. Every new technology carries risks inherent within it. Because technology shapes us as we use it, we need to be aware of what it’s doing to us and learn how to set boundaries. Being proactive with ethics allows us to measure choices by standards which will help us to decide what to embrace and what to reject. Ethics, essentially, gives us the lenses through which we can view things.
This is why we need to begin the conversation of blockchain ethics. This technology is new, radical, and has the ability to disrupt organizations, companies, systems, and professions all across the world. We need to be thinking about the ways it shapes us lest we find ourselves bent in the wrong direction. Formative technology requires proactive ethics.