3 minute read
27 Jul 2017
9:52 am

Are you less moral when using a smartphone?


A study looking at how we act on the web when using a PC or phone offered up surprising results.

Picture: iStock

Are smartphones ruining our generation?

News broke this week of a Californian teenager who live-streamed a fatal accident that took her sister’s life. The horrific video shows a clearly intoxicated Obdulia Sanchez behind the wheel, filming herself and obviously paying no attention to the road.

The video, which is 1 minute 44 seconds in length, shows the teenager singing, dancing and showing the camera a variety of gestures and signs. She flips the camera around a few times for some self-indulgent snaps when, suddenly, the camera shakes, screaming can be heard and the camera records the accident.

The video then cuts to Sanchez recording her dying sister. The teenager records around 20 more seconds of her swearing at the camera and showing her viewers her sister, who has obvious head injuries, instead of calling for assistance.

This, however, is not the first time in the past few months that a fatal accident has been recorded live.

We ask, with the development of technology, have our morals been impacted?

Is live streaming getting out of hand?

Live streaming has been introduced to various social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Many have welcomed the feature, embracing the fact that you can convey real-time videos and messages on your profile.

This, however, means that an upload cannot be monitored and reviewed by the platform before being seen by the public.

The Post reported in April that there has been a significant rise in live videos of violent incidents, including suicides, beheadings and torture. These have all gone viral, with some reaching millions of people.

Platforms such as Facebook have promised to start hiring thousands of employees to monitor the uploads.

Is the answer, however, not possibly disabling functions such as live streaming? Would this stop encouraging people to record real-time events that could go horribly wrong?

Morals are directly impacted by smartphones

A new study from City, University of London, has shown that smartphones do affect the way we make moral decisions.

For the study, researchers observed how participants made moral decisions. These decisions were either presented through a smartphone or a PC.

So what exactly did researchers have to say?

It seems that using a smartphone versus a computer makes us more likely to choose practically versus ethically.

“People’s moral judgments depend on the digital context (smartphone vs PC) in which a dilemma is presented, becoming more utilitarian when using smartphones,” researchers said in the paper.

The participants in the study were presented with various moral dilemmas with the same premise. The central premise was whether to sacrifice one person to save a group of people.

Overall, users tended to make more utilitarian judgments through smartphones – meaning they chose to sacrifice someone.

“We have shown that people’s moral judgments become more utilitarian when using smartphones as opposed to PCs,” the researchers said.

Why was the study conducted?

The study may seem to be a random bout of curiosity on the part of researchers. Its motivation is part of the grand scheme of how technology affects our morals.

“In recent years, there have been some concerns that the increasing use of technology in (moral) decision making and/or communication may have an overall adverse effect,” the study found.

Researchers are mainly hoping, though, that the study promotes more consideration of how digital mediums can affect our moral decisions.

The issue is particularly pressing in an age where hate speech and political extremism have emerged with greater prominence on social media.

So how does this affect you?

Understanding the way handling technology affects our moral judgments is important, as artificial intelligence makes its way into our cars and further into our lives.

Sure, Siri isn’t going to make any life-or-death decisions anytime soon. But the programmers behind AI in self-driving cars are going to need to decide what the technology prioritises in an accident.

While AI programs will eventually make these decisions, we are the ones coding “morality” into their software.

This becomes concerning when something as simple using a smartphone versus a PC could affect our decisions.

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