The effects of technological advances upon society, our sense of group, and our sense of the individual self often has unintentional and/or unexpected consequences. Technological advances do something to us, not as if a particular technology itself acts upon us (although some technologies do), but that technological advances prompt in us or cause within us… something.
I love to play with new technology. In my previous life as a techno-geek taking care of the technology needs of an academic unit at Kent State University, I would get all excited when we got in the newest and greatest pieces of technology. The secretaries fondly laughed at me. It was great! I marvel at the advances we see now and particularly that are just around the corner.
Just like most everything in life, there are good ramifications of technological advancement and there are bad. Those who observe and foresee, it can be exhilarating and disheartening.
As our society moves more fully into a Post-Christian disposition and understanding of itself and as technology changes, there will be some interesting and perhaps unexpected results. Do we recognize even the seemingly insignificant connections between the development of social structures and systems and our perceptions of normality as many of our foundational social precepts change? The Rule of Unintended Consequences. Hindsight, again.
So, a recent commentary by Frank Skinner in the TimesOnline (UK) about Google Earth is both humorous and poignant. What I really like about the article is the author’s take on being observed and the unease that it causes many people. He says that in a culture that no longer has a common grounding in the Christian faith, where we understand that God is always watching over us, the experience of “Street View” on Google Maps can inadvertently show someone caught in an act that s/he believes embarrassing or was believed to be covert, but now can be seen by anyone with a Internet connection. Street View as social commentary. He then comments on morality and what sometimes compels us to act in moral ways that we might not, otherwise. Great connection!
I think this ever-growing hysteria about the invasion of privacy in Great Britain might be a direct result of the secularisation of our society. As a Roman Catholic, I’ve spent my whole life believing that my every move is being monitored. God, after all, is the ultimate CCTV. There have been many occasions when this sense of being watched has led me to do the right thing rather than the easier or more pleasurable wrong one. We hate those intermittent yellow boxes on modern roads but they do, generally speaking, cause us to drive more safely.
Maybe, now that God doesn’t feature in most people’s lives, society need things like Street View and surveillance cameras to make people behave better. I don’t suppose the citizens whose sins were exposed by Google fear they’ll end up sizzling on Satan’s griddle as a result but all this fuss about images of drunkenness, crime and lust does suggest a certain sense of shame.
Another picture that got removed was a naked toddler playing in a park. A few years back such an image would have been seen as a symbol of joyous innocence. Now it just reminds us of another social evil we’d rather not think about. Maybe Street View is the mirror that society doesn’t want to look into.