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Flipping the Script: When do technologies disrupt morality?

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Answer: when they flip the social script.Technologies change how humans perform tasks. Consider what I am doing right now. I’m typing words onto a screen using word processing software. Later, I plan to publish these words on a website where they can be accessed by all and sundry. This is a very different way of writing and sharing one’s thoughts than was the historical norm. If I was living in Europe in, say, the 1600s, I would probably first write out these words by hand using paper and ink, then, if I was lucky and wealthy enough, I might pay to have them printed up as a pamphlet. I would then hand out at that pamphlet at street corners and public meetings. But just because technologies change how humans perform tasks, it does not follow that they will be morally or socially disruptive. Some changes in what we do don’t have substantive ripple effects on our social relations and social organisation. For that to happen, technologies have to do more than simply change what we do; they have to change how we relate to one another. That, at any rate, is one of the arguments developed by Stephen Barley in his research on technological change in the workplace. Barley argues that it is only when technologies disrupt our ‘role relations’ that they have substantial impacts on the normative and bureaucratic frameworks in which we live out our lives. Barley’s empirical research focuses almost entirely on technology in the workplace, but I think his research has broader lessons. In particular, I think it can help us to distinguish between technology that changes some day-to-day behaviours from technology that is truly morally disruptive, i.e. capable of changing our social-moral beliefs and practices. I will develop this argument in the remainder of this article. I do so, first, by outlining the explanatory framework that Barley uses. I will then consider a practical illustration of this explanatory framework drawn from Barley’s research. I will conclude by considering the. . .

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News source: Philosophical Disquisitions

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