Consumers of Technology

Episode: 
10

Have you heard about the Star Wars Force Trainer?  It’s not a prop from the movie, but a toy you can pick up for $99.

The Force Trainer has a wireless headset with three sensors, which is used to control a sphere in a plastic tube.  As the novice Jedi concentrates, his brain’s beta waves send a signal that raises and lowers a ping pong ball.

Or, for $299, Emotiv Systems rolled out EPOC in late 2009.  EPOC is a human-computer interface for video gaming.  The gamer wears a headset with 16 contact points.  The EPOC detects emotions such as anger or calmness, and changes the game music, environment and characters in response.  Just by thinking about it, the gamer can move objects or make them disappear from the video screen. The computer-brain interface is fun!

You can’t make this stuff up! It’s not just the world of science fiction movies and novels, but it is in our local ToysRUs.

Technology is here, it’s all around us, and it’s not going to go away.  How should we think about technology?  Is this a concern about bioethics?  Yes, because bioethics includes that vast and exploding area called biotechnology.

There are many definitions of biotechnology.  The President’s Council on Bioethics described it as those processes and products that offer the potential to alter and control the phenomena of life.  Biotechnology “is a form of human empowerment.”  Through it, we “augment our capacities to act or perform effectively.”[1] A device that reads brain activity certainly expands our video game capacities, doesn’t it? But what are the other consequences or implications of this sort of everyday technology?

Technology has been around since the first person crafted the first tool.  It enabled him to dig deeper and faster.  Technology is not inherently evil, and as Christians, we should not reflexively fear every technological innovation.  But, with biotechnology, we must be alert to the impact technology can have on human beings, and on human flourishing. Biotechnology may enhance or erode our humanity. Sometimes it does both.

These technological breakthroughs often start in medicine or military defense research, outside our everyday concerns.  The commercial potential then mainstreams the product.  Finally, as consumers of the latest innovations, we accept, desire, and absorb them. Think of the whole scale cultural adoption of iPods and smart phones.   

Beware of the consumer mentality.  Don’t mindlessly acquire the latest thing, without asking questions first.  A good question to start with is: Will I control the technology, or will it control me? All technology shapes us, and we need to be aware of that.

So, whether it’s the Star Wars Force Trainer or the EPOC video headset, don’t rush out and buy it. They’re not just merely toys, but sophisticated technologies. Think about it first.

 


[1] See the report by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness.  (HarperCollins, 2003) 2.

 

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