For the past few years I have taught a first-year seminar, here in Baylor’s Honors College, focusing largely on technological and media literary. If I am honest with myself, I will have to admit that it has never gone particularly well.
If there is one argument that I make most relentlessly in the class, it is this: Every technology proferred to us by our technocracy has powerful affordances that are encoded in those technologies’ default settings. You do not have to stick with those defaults, and in some cases it can be dangerous or even unethical to do so. So what I’m trying to teach my students is what the Hebrew Bible calls bin, discernment, and what Aristotle and his heirs call phronesis, prudence or judgment. I don’t tell them to delete their Facebook accounts, but I do want them to know precisely what is involved in having a Facebook account, what the costs and benefits are; I want them to be thoughtful and mindful in how they use these technologies.
Some of them thank me for opening their eyes to the realities of our current socio-technological order, but more of them admit, either ruefully or a little defiantly, that nothing we’ve read or discussed is going to change their habits, because it’s just not important enough to invest time and energy in. They’re worried about whether they’re going to get into law school or medical school, and they want to have fun at football games, and when you add up the work hours and the leisure hours there just aren’t any left over for questioning the moral legitimacy of Instagram. And anyway that’s where their friends are. Usually there’s a shrug at this point.
And you know what? I don’t think I can say that they’re wrong. Maybe that’s a rational decision they’re making, all things considered. In which case I need to find a new topic for my first-year seminar.