Tech Ethics

Technology, as we understand it today, is so entrenched in the fibers of contemporary culture that it surely deserves some philosophical consideration. One consideration I find particularly stimulating, and critically important, is an ethical one. Jane Bennett takes from the writing of Lucretius, Spinoza and Latour in her quest to encourage the idea of vibrant matter. Lucretius offers a particularly beautiful understanding of all things in nature as comprised of the same universal ultimate particles which fall uniformly until they spontaneously swerve into one another and create compounds of particles (everything that exists). It is in this image that we can begin to look at all things around us as made up of the same parts and deserving of the same “respect.” In other words we can begin to see inhuman material in the same way we see and understand human material: as ‘actants’ or “…that which has efficacy, can do things, has sufficient coherence to make a difference, produce effects, alter the course of events…” (Vibrant Matter, viii). It is in understanding this theory that we can hereafter consider an ethical question. Bennett explains, “…the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption…by preventing us form detecting a fuller range of the nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies” (Vibrant Matter, ix).  Here, as is relevant to the times and our tech-infused culture, I start to consider technology as an actant as well.

Vanneavar Bush’s article As We May Think is absolutely genius and vibrantly visionary. However, it elides an ethical consideration that is as important in theoretical application as it is in application to technology’s physical presence in society today. His idea of creating a machine that amalgamates the world’s knowledge and provides everyone access to it is brilliant. The concept of collaboration and allowing conversations between varying people on varying topics—authors and readers building upon one another’s ideas—is precisely how the world can move forward. Now my skepticism in all this returns to Bennett’s philosophical inquiry. If we are constantly moving forward, exchanging our equipment and technology for new, more compact, more mobile, faster, slimmer, sleeker pieces of technology, what is happening to all our waste? If everything is an actant—tech devices included—isn’t it absolutely critical that we consider the effective nature of our tech waste? What is it doing to our planet? Additionally, and somewhat tangentially, is the effective nature of our technology devices in use currently. We are constantly working towards new inventions, but our consideration for how these inventions are going to effect our culture and our society (in addition to our world environmentally and otherwise) isn’t put to critical examination.


Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. USA: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, at 101-08

~ by jh2716 on September 11, 2013.

3 Responses to “Tech Ethics”

  1. This post makes me think of the argument about the ethical issue in biological technology. Recently the world’s first genetically modified humans have been created. Is it ethical to change one’s DNA? What is the bottom line of cloning humans? ——Sabrina Hao

  2. The ethics of technology could seriously keep me awake at night. You mention a physical ethical problem that exists. If we create more and more technology, where is our waste going? I definitely agree with this sentiment but I’m likely more concerned about the mental and social ethics of technology use how has it changed the way we interact with people for the worse? How can we exercise self control when advancing through technology?
    – Kat D

  3. I think that this post touches directly on Bennett’s desire to consider the effects of objects, and you narrowed it down to consider technology instead of every object that exists. I have a feeling Bennett will get more specific as we read on, and your response proves that she’s making you think in the appropriate way to read her text! – Anne Lenz

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