Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2017)

Lucas Introna
Lancaster University
Information and communication technology is changing many aspects ofhuman endeavour and existence. This is beyond dispute for most. Whatare contested are the social and ethical implications of thesechanges. Possible sources of these disputes are the multiple ways inwhich one can conceptualize and interpret the informationtechnology/society interrelationship. Each of these ways ofconceptualization and interpretation enables one to see theinformation technology/society relationship differently and thereforeconstrue its social and ethical implications in a different manner. Atthe center of this technology/society interrelationship we find manycomplex questions about the nature of the human, the technical,agency, autonomy, freedom and much more. This is indeed a vastintellectual landscape, which can obviously not be explored here inits fullness. This entry is about just one particular perspective onthis landscape. It is primarily concerned with the phenomenologicalapproach to interpreting information technology and its social andethical implications. It should be noted from the start that there isnot a unified phenomenological tradition or approach to informationtechnology in particular, or other phenomena more generally. Thephenomenological tradition consists of many different approaches thatshare certain characteristics but not all. We may however suggest, with Don Ihde,that they all accept that “phenomenology investigates theconditions of what makes things appear as such [as that which we takethem to be].” Differently stated, phenomenology suggests thatthere is a co-constitutive relationship between us and the phenomenawe encounter in our engagement with the world. In this sensephenomenologists would suggest that to understand thetechnology/society relationship we need to reveal how theyco-constitute each other—i.e. draw on each other for theirongoing meaning and sense. We will elaborate more precisely what thismeans in section 2 below. However, in order to understand the distinctiveness of thephenomenological approach other possible ways of interpreting thistechnology/society relationship will also be outlined brieflybelow., It can be said that information technology has become in a very realsense ubiquitous. Most everyday technologies such as elevators,automobiles, microwaves, watches, and so forth depend onmicroprocessors for their ongoing operation. Most organizations andinstitutions have become reliant on their information technologyinfrastructure to a lesser or greater degree. Indeed informationtechnology is seen by many as a cost-efficient way to solve amultitude of problems facing our complex contemporary society. One canalmost say that information technology has become construed as thedefault technology for solving a whole raft of technical and socialproblems such as health provision, security, governance, etc. Onecould also argue that it has become synonymous with society’sview of modernization and progress. For most it seems obvious thatinformation technology has made it possible for humans to continue toconstruct increasingly complex systems of coordination and socialordering—systems without which contemporary society would not beable to exist in its present form. To say the least, we, ascontemporary human beings, have our manner of being made possiblethrough a rather comprehensive entanglement with information andcommunication technology. Indeed, the economic, organizational andsocial benefit of information technology is not widely disputed. Thedispute is more often about the way information technology is changingor transforming the social domain, and in particular, the ethicaldomain. This dispute is largely centered around different ways ofconceptualizing and interpreting the nature of our entanglement withinformation technology. This debate is not merely an academic debateabout different and competing theoretical ‘models.’Rather, these different ways of conceptualizing it is central to ourunderstanding of how we go about managing our increasingly entangledrelationship with information technology.
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The Ethics of Authenticity.Charles Taylor - 1992 - Harvard University Press.

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