The Machinery Of Morality

In his new book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological SolutionismEvgeny Morozov explains how certain kinds of technology could help us become more moral beings. For instance, he’s intrigued by “a caterpillar-shaped extension cord which, if you leave devices in standby mode, it will start twitching as if the caterpillar was in pain”:

To me, it’s a nice way of alerting you, as someone who is a user of electricity, that there are many more issues involved that designers have tried to hide from you. They would rather you not think of devices in standby mode and would rather make that extension cord as invisible as possible.

And it’s this very paradigm that has brought us to a point where we think about energy – and even think that cloud computing – as being provided by some invisible infrastructure we no longer have to care about. I’m not sure how far we will be able to go with that paradigm in the future. If we will be replacing that paradigm, then I think that making technologies into these triggers for deliberation and reflection is not a bad place to start.

In a recent WSJ piece, Morozov provided other examples of ethical tech:

An Internet-jacked kettle that alerts us when the national power grid is overloaded (a prototype has been developed by U.K. engineer Chris Adams) doesn’t prevent us from boiling yet another cup of tea, but it does add an extra ethical dimension to that choice. Likewise, a grocery cart that can scan the bar codes of products we put into it, informing us of their nutritional benefits and country of origin, enhances—rather than impoverishes—our autonomy (a prototype has been developed by a group of designers at the Open University, also in the U.K.)