Do We Drive Technology Or Does Technology Drive Us?

By Dr John Bellavance
on 18 November 2021

I have been teaching Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Australian high schools for 20 years. I often have conversations with students who encounter challenges in the digital world. Their own attitudes, values and anti-social behaviours, and that of others can be detrimental to their social engagement with others, their wellbeing and their moral development. I have also seen many examples wonderful examples of human morality and ethics by young people.

The challenge for young people is two-sided. They need to understand how their values and behaviours affect their activities and others in the digital world, but also how the digital world affects their values and behaviours.  ICTs can influence them to do wrong things and feel they can get away with it, without a need to engage their sense of right and wrong. Young people refer to this as the ‘distance’ between others.  ICTs can allow us feel exempt from our moral responsibility.

Young people are in the driver’s seat

Schools attempt to address misuses and risks associated with the use of ICTs by ‘controlling’ and ‘restricting’ their uses. However, with open access to personal Wi-Fis this can only be achieved in a very limited way. Because young people manage their own uses of ICTs, the individual plays the most significant role in determining practices and this is where the focus should be. This requires fostering moral values that compel self-reflection, critical evaluations of the use of ICTs, self-regulation and moral agency. Tensions between various approaches to cope with unethical uses of ICTs in schools and in society are difficult to resolve unless schools can define the important values and abilities that students need to have while using ICTs and foster these.

Digital natives – can students do this on their own?

Since young people generally know more about the new media environments than most adults do, we must be cautious about constructing teens as natural experts of technology, because this assumes that young people naturally know what to do and are able to acquire the abilities to participate ethically and effectively in the digital world on their own. First, this assumes that young people actively reflect on their experiences and can thus articulate what they learn from their participation in the digital world. Second, that they can develop on their own an ethical framework to guide their participation. Cyber-Safety programs are the main proactive intervention directed to youth with respect to their uses of ICTs. However, these programs do not really address the underlying issue of the values that drive problems.

Digital moral framework

Digital Framework

“If we’re trying to tell someone to have good values, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got good values… If you’ve got values, stick to them.” – Betty (a 14-year-old student)

A holistic digital moral framework is needed that can support moral reasoning, emotions and behaviours – the three aspects of human morality. Integrity in the digital world is having moral expectation of oneself and living up to one’s moral values, based on the values of authenticity, accountability, honesty and trustworthiness.

This chart you see below represents the ranking of importance students placed on each of the moral issues they encountered in the digital world.

“I am the same on the internet as I am in real life. I don’t try to look better.” – A student

One definition of authenticity while using ICTs is being who we truly are and being consistent in one’s self-presentations. Students often noted that authenticity was important for themselves and their peers, indicating the importance of being consistent in how they portrayed themselves online. Digital Framework

“It was not fair to blame others without putting yourself in other people’s shoes.”
– A student

Heart is being empathetic towards others and following one’s conscience with respect to one’s actions. While using ICTs some students appeared to understand their own emotional reactions and discern the morally relevant factors of a situation, such as not blaming others without knowing their circumstances. Empathy is associated with more lenient moral judgments of others.

“If you are on technology you can go out of your limits (in the level of inappropriate social media postings) and think that was too far, but you can’t control it because of someone else doing it to you as well.” – Betty

Character while using ICTs is managing ourselves based on the values of self-control and responsibility, and behaving morally towards others is based on the values of altruism, justice and respect.

The Digital Moral Framework suggests that the moral reasoning, emotions and behaviours play an important role in the moral use of ICTs by young people. The two key abilities that stand out are self-reflection of one’s values and behaviours and critical analysis of the values and practices that mediate the use of ICTs.

For more information on Dr John Bellavance’s book, take a look at his site here.

For more from Women Love Tech on technology and education, visit here.

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