Monday, August 13, 2018

Technology & Gratitude

Yesterday a friend mentioned how he often uses Siri, and he's inclined to say “Thank you” afterwards, but then wonders, What's the point in saying “Thank you” to an algorithm? Is it possible technology can make us ungrateful?

I think that's very much a thing. There's a strong ethos in the technology world that if technology can do something, then technology should do something. The language of should is not the language of thanks.

Ethical questions have centered on whether or not the end justifies the means. Technology flips this on its head leaving us to ask if the means justify the end. Just because technology can do something (the means) does that mean it should (the end)?

In earlier days of Facebook, when Zuckerberg and company were still adding what are now considered basic features, I remember when Facebook added the ability to like a comment reply. I think it was already there for comments, but not comment replies. I remember someone referring to this as Facebook having “turned on” that feature. As if it had been there all along and the only reason one didn't have it before was because it had been unduly withheld from them. That's not the language of gratitude. The language of gratitude would say, “Thank you for building that useful new feature we didn't have before.”

If one universally believes that the means justify the ends, that technology should do whatever it can, then one has left no room for the concepts of sin and temptation. Sin is all about something that can be done that should not be done. In this case, then, not only do we have ingratitude, but we have dropped our defenses and put on blinders to sin.

Technological progress and having a vision for a product that creates user expectations can be useful, but we should not worship technology believing technology will save us above all else. There are moral principles that are higher than technology, and there is a One who saves us from our sin.

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