Strictly speaking, this ought to be called “Electronic Ethics,” but the title “Electric Ethics” was just too catchy to pass up.
It’s not hard to find a Christian perspective, or ten, on every issue under the sun. But one issue conspicuously absent from Christian reflection is the issue of how we use our technology. Desktops, laptops, gaming systems, TVs, mp3 players, smartphones and even dumbphones occupy an ever-increasing portion of our time, money, and attention. Nearly 60% of American households own a gaming system and overall time spent gaming is up 7% from last year (source: Nielson Wire). Half of American adults own a smartphone, up from a third last year (source: Pew). Personal and mobile electronic use is clearly becoming part of the fabric of our society, but it’s still difficult to find much in the way of Christian reflections on this technology.
And so this is what I’ll be doing this summer: research on personal electronic use through a Christian lens. It’s probably relevant at this point to explain why I’m using a Christian lens. I’m a religion major focusing on the Christian tradition, and as a result the ethical system I know best is the Christian one. And while the Christian ethical framework is unique and particular, it’s my belief that it can also add a lot to the larger discussion on the ethics of personal computing. I will be exploring several issues, including:
- how personal electronics are markers of social class and creators of social stratification
- the ways in which this technology impacts our understanding and practice of community
- how personal electronics provide ways to escape reality or ease suffering
- the use of conflict minerals in computer construction
- how this technology changes how we think and process the world around us
- the ways internet usage can be detrimental and useful for how Christians worship and gather together
- the impact of the personal electronics culture on the environment
- how the boundaries between nations are influenced by personal electronics
Because I want my research to be as practical as possible, I will interview many of my contacts in the the IT and programming worlds, along with several of my contacts who participate in intentional Christian communities. These interviews will inform my research as I deconstruct our current culture of personal computing, offering reflection from within the framework of Christian ethics. The goal here is simple: to say something practical and useful. I hope to be part of the conversation of how Christians and others can use technology well at an individual, communal, public, national, and global level. Starting in June, I’ll be posting every week with a new topic for discussion. It is my hope that you’ll join me in conversation in the coming weeks. My first posts will focus on defining “Christian ethics” and “personal electronics culture,” and these posts will set the stage for the discussions to follow.
John McLean is a rising senior majoring in Religion at Duke University. He is concentrating on textual and theological studies in early Christianity. John grew up in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and now lives near the Research Triangle Park. He loves woodcarving in his spare time and focuses on traditional woodworking, making hand-carved spoons and bowls. He will be living and researching from Durham, NC, and looks forward to seeing how this project develops.