Global Culture of Digital Technology and Its Ethics
Southern Connecticut State University
revolutionary nature and global character of digitaltechnology,
questioned only a few years ago,are undeniable today. It hasalso
become obvious that this technology generates a new lifestyle, newstandards
of human behavior, new values; in short, a newculture/civilization
is emerging due to the use of digital technology.
this proposed ETHICOMP2001 paper, an attempt will be made to examine
the way in which values -- especially ethical values -- will find
aplace in this new global culture/civilization of digital technology.
(Theterms 'culture' and 'civilization' will be used interchangeablyhere,
because the problems addressed in the paper apply both to what wastraditionally
defined as 'culture' and as 'civilization.')
focal point of the paper is the relation between valuespromoted
by the new 'digital civilization,' and the traditional moralvalues
created by the major world civilizations -- values that guided themfor
centuries. The problem of whether these values are compatible or
inconflict with the new 'global ethics of digital culture' will
beaddressed in order to examine the character of the globalization
With respect to values, the globalization process will most likelyprogress
in one of the following two ways:
could be a process of selection, inclusion,promotion, and blending
of the values of traditional cultures with the'newcomer' culture.
In this case, all areas of the world would beinvolved in and contribute
to the creation of global ethics (globalcivilization, in a broader
could take the form of a hostile takeover andruthless destruction
of traditional values of the local cultures by the newdigital
civilization. Hostility and ruthlessness could be hidden behind
thepretense of following the first way.
author of this paper favors the first way, thelikelihood that globalization
will actually progress in the second wayseems to be greater. The
paper will offer some arguments supporting thevalidity of this projection.
the ethics of a particular society was supported,protected, and
promoted by that society’s religion or, for instance in China, by
a philosophy whose social impact was similar to that of religion.This
is still largely true for civilizations other than the westerncivilization.
the generator and the guardian of society sethical code, traditional
religions contain three other fundamentalcharacteristics: creed,
cult, and community structure. Without acommunity of believers
there is no religion in the traditional sense.
Samuel P. Huntington
pointed out that the West generated greatpolitical ideologies, but
never a major religion. However, the Westcontributed to one major
change within a traditional religion by reforming Christianity.
One of the outstanding characteristics of Reformed Christianity
has been the emphasis on individual salvation. Another important
feature is the Protestant ethics, which -- as was shown brilliantly
by Max Weber -- supported 'the spirit of capitalism.'
A very important
change the Reformation brought to the structureof Western societies
was the separation of church and state. One of theresults of this
separation was that churches lost formal control overscientific
research and over almost all other forms of intellectualinquiry.
Eventually, secular forms of ethics were as well created.
Where the church
lost control, the state or private enterprisetook over because the
production of ideas, and even more so technologicalinnovations,
are costly, they always need financial support. In the freemarket
economy of a capitalist society, money has to generate money. Ideasor
technological innovations must have at least the potential to in
someway benefit the system that enables their production. Otherwise,
thefinancial support will eventually be withdrawn.
movens of capitalism is individual competition.Capitalist societies
promote individualism. No wonder that the mostsuccessful secular
ethical theories focus on the individual. The ethical'theory du
jour' with a growing popularity at least in the UnitedStates, seems
to be ethical egoism. At the same time, the 'classic' Protestant
denominations with strong individualistic tendencies, forinstance
Presbyterians, are struggling to maintain their membership. One
ofthe explanations of why it happens is that the present secular
theoriesplus the concept of individual spirituality satisfy the
needs of formermembers. On the other hand, the membership in community-orienteddenominations
like the Southern Baptists, Pentecostal, or the Church ofJesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) is growing. Overallhowever, the
influence of traditional religions on people's lives in theWest
is in decline.
This is the
environment that produced the invention of computertechnology and
generated the computer revolution.
To sum up: Computer
technology and ethical egoism both are theproduct of secular research
within a free market capitalist society of theWest, especially the
United States. The majority of non-western societies,and some western
as well, follow ethical rules created within traditionalreligious
systems. These rules are centered on guiding the individual inproperly
fulfilling his/her role within the society, which means thesuperiority
of the society over the individual. The tension between thesetwo
approaches must inevitably produce conflicts. Hence, a clash ofvalues
reflecting different civilizations in many places on earth isinevitable
as well. This clash of civilizations (to borrow SamuelHuntington's
term) could be very strong in the case of ethical values because
of the often highly emotional approach people have towards such
that computer technology is bringing to peoples's lives are revolutionary.
One of the features of every revolution is that itis at the same
time both a process of creation and of destruction. Therevolutionary
process itself is a very rapid one, which means that there islittle
or no time for a thorough and deep reflection on it while theprocess
is actually in progress.
revolution undoubtedly brings benefits to people, butit will also
contribute very strongly to the rapid destruction oftraditional
cultures and their values. This will be a painful processespecially
in the (many!) cases where it will not be accompanied by anygains.
way of at least minimizing the harm, if notsuccessfully solving
this problem, could be through incorporating theexperiences of the
process of interreligious dialogue into the process ofcreating a
global ethics of the digital civilization.
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