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The Subtle Ethics of Cell Phone Culture

jrieders's picture

Cell phones have become totally integrated into our daily lives. Sitting in the classroom, on the bus, at the dinner table, we find ourselves constantly checking our cell phones for messages and updates. Now that the internet is available on our phones some seem to literally have their phones glued to their hands.

The impact of cell phones is seen in our legislation, and even serves as key evidence in political corruption. In the celebrity realm a stolen cell phone can ignite massive scandals damaging to individual reputation, family members, and anyone associated with that celebrity. We've seen the emergence of new forms of bulling and sexual harassment, and new challenges to school administrators in determining their role in appropriate cell phone usage.

Some studies have produced evidence that link cell phone use to cancer and neurological disorders, but few involve human subjects and the findings are sometimes conflicting. Some argue that cell phones have not been in use long enough for us to see their harmful side effects. Are there psychological threats that current research might overlook? Given that cell phones are potentially hazardous to our health, why do we constantly push for more availability and advancement of cell phone technology? Finally, how do we deal with more subtle ethics  such as teaching our children safe and responsible cell phone use?




Paul Grobstein's picture

cell phones, electric lights, and hearing "health"?

What intrigued me from this conversation was its connection to earlier ones about regulation of food intake and sleep patterns.  How do we decide what is "good" for us, and what not?  By "education" and "norms"?  Or by trying things out and observing our responses to them (and those of others)?  The potentially scarey things about cell phones, and about education and norms, is that they might distract us from learning to notice and make use of our own internal feelings.  Like electric lights, they might, without our knowing it, decrease the time we spend listening to/observing ourselves, to the feelings that are often the best synthesis of the large and complexly related variables that represent our well being.  Doctors may not be able to "look at the entire physiology to decide if cholesterol levels need to be changed" but we can, through our feelings if we learn to use them wisely.  If we take the time to hear "songs in the wind," "the crack of the twig," the motion of the earth, to "experience the sublime"?

ttruong's picture

Technology-the new selective pressure

Perhaps this culture of immersion in technology is a new selective pressure that will result in adaptations in our progeny. People who cease to be sensitive to the sublime, and nuances of sensations and human interaction but develop heightened logical thinking to interact with computers will be more fit.

Anna Dela Cruz's picture

I find it interesting that

I find it interesting that you write "technology is a new selective pressure". Last semester in my Gender and Technology class, I remember a discussion in which someone offered the idea that perhaps humans are no longer evolving biologically but rather are evolving technologically. While there is proof that humans are still evolving biologically (see link provided), I do see where my classmate got his idea.

Today, a word association exercise with the word "technology" may result with "electronics", "digital", "cyber" as answers but to me, technology is anything man-made--anything the human race has invested conscious thought into making. So looking back at our anthropological history--even before the proverbial caveman with wheel--technology has always been a part of our lives, in fact, has always been crucial to our survival and cultural evolution.

That said, while technology in our early history may have been seen as a helpful tool to make work a little easier, I see that now we (in developed countries) have become so dependent upon technology that we embed our very indentities into cellular phones, computers, iPods, etc. Personally, I can't go a day without checking my email either through my computer or cell phone, without listening to my iPod, and without texting a friend. When my iPod ran out of battery in the middle of a train ride to Philly, when my former cellular service provider accidentally shut down rendering my phone useless, and when my former PC got a virus, I felt as if a huge piece of me died inside. No, I'm not trying to be melodramatic, I really felt incomplete and dysfunctional when I lost the ability to use my devices. Given my obvious dependence on technology, I wonder what human abilities/sensibilities I have lost in order to gain technological competence.


Human Evolution: Are Humans Still Evolving?  

Lisa B.'s picture

Have cell phones decreased political corruption?


Julianne said in her introduction that cell phones contribute to political corruption. How much have cell phones helped politicians avoid political corruption? Cell phones with an Internet connection could have decreased the number of forged resumes because of the increased accessibility of search engines.  


jrieders's picture


if you don't have time to read whole article read Sherry Turkle's take on it on the last page


jrlewis's picture

This article dove tails with

This article dove tails with a book I am reading for pleasure.  Jeanette Winterson's novel, The Stone Gods, chronicles a relationship between a human and robot.  The human narrator devotes a significant amount of time to thinking through the differences between her and her love.  The physical, psychological and social differences between two beings.  The robot is special, a robo sapiens, designed by humans to learn and evolve. The robo sapiens develops the capacity to love, not another robo sapiens, but a human.  One question that arises, is whether or not this behavior was intented by the robot's programmers.  This scenario struck me as futuristic dystopia of the research described in the New Yorker article. 

Lisa B.'s picture

Brave New World


18 pt
18 pt


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Science and technology has a long history of controversy. In 1932, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, a novel that imagines reproduction through technology in the future. In the 1990s, the Modern Library ranked Huxley’s novel as fifth on its list of 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century. This could indicate that people are still fascinated with the topic of reproductive technology.



Lisa B.'s picture

Exoskeletons vs. Virtual Technology


“Robots that Care” summarized the pilot trial of Maja Matarić, a professor of computer science at the University of Southern California, which studied the responses of six stroke patients to robots. Matarić’s research team concluded that patients were more responsive to mechanical robots than three-dimensional virtual robots in stroke rehabilitation programs.
This study could indicate that human culture has not yet evolved technology that could replace personal contact. The mechanical robot in this clinical trial resembled human contact, where the robot and human worked together in a structured environment. In comparison, a three-dimensional virtual robot was unable to physically work together with the recovering stroke patients. It could be that the most advanced technology will never replace the need for an exoskeleton, whether human or robotic.