April Baker - Manifesto

We should not assume that we can fully predict the uses or repercussions of any technology.

With any invention, we make certain assumptions about what purpose it will serve and what affect it will have on society. We often assume that we know if it will be safe and useful and that we can predict all the ways in which it will be used. In the early stages, no one predicted that automobiles would cause significant air pollution or that cigarettes would be linked to cancer. According to The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg had no idea what Facebook would become - not just the social connections, but also the games, chat, marketplace, and other features.

On our own campus, the engineers of RoMeLa are working hard towards a cognitive autonomous robot and hope that people will not be afraid of robots, but view them as helpful friends. Even though they have built these robots from scratch, how can they confidently assert that robots are friends? They cannot be certain that at some point, even by accident, the robots could be used dangerously, and that maybe society’s fears are not misplaced.

There are countless examples of technology becoming something different than what it was originally designed to be. Therefore, we should be careful not to assume that we know how designs will evolve or adapt to our needs.

We should not replace face-to-face contact with digital contact.

Too much virtual contact gives us a false perception of almost every situation. While we can transmit sound, pictures, text, and even live video feed entirely around the world, we cannot even begin to transmit many of the inherent qualities of face-to-face conversation. Emotion, context, and gestures are all lost in most forms of digital contact. Even mediums such as Skype may affect our comfort level, so that the attitudes we are sending may not be the same as what we would feel in person.

Our class discussions and some of our ethnographies prove that a part of our identity gets lost in digital contact. People worry if we don’t respond to Facebook messages or answer the phone, even if we’re out of touch for just a few hours. Social networking allows us to keep connections with people we have not seen for years and may not see again, like elementary school classmates. But these connections, and often connections with people we see every day, are weakened by the belief that a digital relationship is all that needs to be maintained.

Digital contact is an incredible tool, but we cannot let it devalue the importance of meeting in person and enjoying face-to-face activities.

We should not believe that virtual participation can permanently replace or stimulate the kind of change that physical action uses to solve social problems.

Petitions, picket lines, and rallies have been replaced by clickable links and buttons. Millions of people have lost their desire to initiate and see actual, physical change, because they believe virtual support is enough to solve a problem. Social networking can be an incredible source for organizing support and help, but it can’t single-handedly dissolve the kinds of social problems that need physical assistance or visible support or manual labor.

Organizing a group of people that believe in the same causes or that enjoy the same hobbies builds stronger connections than the kind that are fostered on internet forums and social networking sites. While groups like The Grobanites have used the internet as a resource for Josh Groban fans across the country to raise money for their cause, it does not diminish the value of tangible in-person groups that strengthen relationships and human relations. Book clubs, knitting circles, and protests are all sets of people with a common goal, but they also work to a particular visible goal. Campaigns that require virtual support like forwarded chain emails and Facebook likes rarely allow participants to follow up on the results of the efforts or the amount of participation received. They give a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that deters us from taking physical actions and fulfilling our desire to see measurable change.

We should treat technology as a tool and respect the tool and other users.

While it may not be wise to completely abolish anonymity on the internet, it is reasonable to ask users to be respectful to the technology, other users, and themselves while they are using the tool. There is no real way to monitor use of the internet, personal text messages, webcams, and other forms of digital technology, but we should hold ourselves accountable when we are using these tools. We should not feel that we are more powerful or brave if we are behind a screen, but take responsibility for our words.

Monitoring should be enforced in online communities when the tool is abused. The internet is a public forum, and we should behave as if we were in public. The Collegiate Times website allows anonymous comments, although they can often be hurtful or violent. While the newspaper may want to allow freedom of speech and to hear from both sides of the story, it should not allow commentary that is hurtful, offensive, and unproductive.

We should take responsibility for our words and actions, both in person and digitally, and limit digital communication that is directly or indirectly hurtful, offensive, or derogatory and does not contribute to solving a problem.

We should not attempt to extend our lives beyond the assistance of modern medicine, specifically creating artificial forms of our individual intelligences.

We have made great improvement in medicine, sanitation, nutrition, water purification, and other areas of science and technology that have allowed us to extend the average human lifespan. We essentially captured and contained smallpox, we have found cures for numerous diseases, and even made great strides in helping cancer patients achieve remission. In developed countries, the percentage of deaths caused by a lack of medicine or technology today would be incomprehensible to the doctors and patients of even a century ago.

We are now at a place where we cannot conceive of certain common ailments, like heart attacks, chicken pox, or the common cold, necessarily resulting in death, because we are confident in our preventative measures and medicine. And, because we have this medicine, we would not purposely deny someone medicinal care, just because we feel like it is natural for the sickness to take its toll. In this century, we feel like modern medicine is a natural and ethical way to extend our lives. However, there is a point where we are changing what it means to be human, in order to live a longer or infinite life. Pills or artificial intelligence or other technology should not be methods for eliminating death. We cannot believe that living indefinitely is a part of human nature, or that it should be.

If we develop a method of lengthening human life indefinitely, either the physical body or the workings of the cognitive mind, we will change the essence of human nature.

We should not replace educational print material with digital learning materials.

Our class has repeatedly discussed a love of the physical book - its smell, its feel, its purpose. We have also discussed the pros and cons of eReaders, particularly the convenience and accessibility they present. The physical book can be saved, altered, and treasured while the electronic books loses value in its indestructibility. If we do not have to worry about losing it, we do not have to worry about taking care of it, and we lose a whole other set of social skills, besides a love of learning and reading.

Although we may not know for sure what kind of affects electronic books and other digital educational material may have (positive or negative) on a child’s learning, we should not assume that we should build these contraptions simply because we can. Every idea is not a good one, and if the book has already proven to be a tried and true technology we should be wary of replacing it.