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  • Writer's pictureRussell E. Willis

Being Responsible in the Age of Social Media, Cryptocurrency, and Smart Weapons/Cars/Phones

Introduction to the Series

Being Responsible in the Age of Social Media, Cryptocurrency, and Smart Weapons/Cars/Phones is the introduction to a series of blogs to be published over the next several weeks. The source for these blogs about responsibility in an age of pervasive technology was originally composed in 1985. That was:

  • nine years before there were any blogs,

  • fourteen years before the term "weblog" was coined,

  • five years before the human genome project officially began,

  • eighteen years before the human genome was fully mapped,

  • one year after Pakistan developed the means to produce a nuclear weapon and twenty-one years before North Korea's first nuclear test,

  • nine years before the START treaty on nuclear nonproliferation began to be enforced,

  • four years after the first Space Shuttle Flight and twenty-six years before the last Space Shuttle flight,

  • ten years after the term "Global Warming" was coined to describe the worst-case scenario for climate, but thirty years before the Paris Accords were signed (and thirty-two years before the United States withdrew from the Paris Accords),

  • ten years before the term "smart phone" was first used,

  • twelve years before the first hybrid car was mass-produced (The Toyota Prius),

  • twenty-nine years before Google revealed a prototype "autonomous" (driverless) car.

This brief stroll down memory lane indicates the breathtaking speed and scope of scientific and technological innovation during those thirty-three years. Yet, when I rediscovered a yellowed draft of a paper I had written for the 1985 International Student Pugwash Conference (yes, blogs and other writing were once called "papers"), I realized:

  1. That much of what we knew in 1985 about the basic patterns of ethical responsibility in an age of pervasive technology still holds in the second decade of the 21st century.

  2. But, that the Internet (especially in the form of social media) and so-called "smart" technologies (from smart phones to smart bombs to smart cars) have introduced new pressures on responsibility that we desperately need to understand and react to.

The 1985 paper morphed during the next five years into my dissertation for Emory University's PhD program in Ethics and Society. In 1997, it also spawned "Complex Responsibility in an Age of Technology," in Living Responsibly in Community. In these two works on technology and ethics, I explored technology as a mode or form of human being and the consequences of this for moral responsibility in age of pervasive technology.

In this series I will unpack many of the ideas and issues I struggled with in the 1985 paper and eventually in my dissertation, and apply them to our current situation. In so doing we will see how the technology of our age increasingly challenges our notions of responsibility and our capacity to act responsibly, both as individuals and as a society. But hopefully we will also discover ways to regain responsibility for technologies that: 1) threaten to overwhelm us and leave us hopeless or powerless, or 2) leaves us unable to accept our responsibility for immoral and dangerous human actions in the name of technological progress (destiny).


Be on the look out for Episode 1: What Does It Mean To Be "Responsible"?

Coming soon!



  • "Toward a Theological Ethics of Technology: An Analysis in Dialogue with Jacques Ellul, James Gustafson, and Philosophy of Technology." A dissertation by Russell E. Willis, Emory University (Department of Ethics and Society), 1990. See an annotated citation in Jeffrey M. Shaw's Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition. (2014)

  • "Complex Responsibility in an Age of Technology," in Living Responsibly in Community, ed. Fredrick E. Glennon, et al. (University Press of America, 1997). Buy at Amazon.

© 2018 Russell E. Willis



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