Are you a good person? How do you know? Most of us set a low bar. Unless we’re kicking puppies and stealing lunches from homeless children, we think we’re doing all right. But not being bad is not the same as being good. And when it comes to making things like software and websites the same rules apply.
Good and evil demystified
A quick trip to the dictionary yields the following basic terms.
Good: Being positive, desirable or virtuous; a good person. Having desirable qualities : a good exterior paint; a good joke. Serving the purpose or end; suitable: Is this a good dress for the party?
Evil: Morally bad or wrong; wicked: an evil tyrant. Causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful: the evil effects of a poor diet. Characterized by anger or spite; malicious: an evil temper.
But how does this apply to technology? Are there good websites and evil websites? Rarely. Most things we know and use fall in between: tools are amoral. They don’t prevent someone from using them for bad or work better when used for good. Great software performs just as well when you’re drafting praise for homeless shelter volunteers as when you’re writing recipes for orphan stew. If we want to claim that the things we make are good or bad, we have to go beyond their function. Goodness, in the moral sense, means something very different from good in the engineering sense.
Focusing on engineering alone, technology makers are not far from arms-dealers: we provide tools to the world with indifference for how they are used. This doesn’t make us evil, but it doesn’t make us good either.
What is the point of technology?
But what is the alternative? The answer depends on how you view the value of technology. There are (at least) 5 alternatives:
There is no point. The universe is chaos and every confused soul fends for themselves. Therefore technology, like all things, is pointless. Software and it’s makers are just another chaotic element in the random existential mess that is the universe. (Patron...