Maintaining Our Personal Integrity

Technology has truly become an inseparable part of our lives. Without our smartphones, computers, and GPS systems, most of us would have a hard time getting things done. All of this new technology has opened up more opportunities for us and has provided a wealth of benefits, but new technology can also introduce us to new ethical dilemmas and questionable situations. Part of the challenge is figuring out how best to navigate the new tools we have without jeopardizing our own personal integrity in the process.

The term “integrity” means your actions match your personal beliefs. For example, if you strongly believe people should do more to protect the Earth from pollution so you recycle then you are demonstrating integrity. If, on the other hand, you throw away your aluminum cans then you are not.

What happens, especially on the Internet, is that we sometimes behave in ways that don’t match our personal beliefs. In fact, we sometimes do things we would never do in face to face encounters. All you have to do is read the comments for almost any news story to see how quickly people resort to name-calling and other insults. Many of these same people would never behave that way in a face to face encounter but because they are protected by the anonymity of the Internet their integrity goes out the window.

This same idea was explored by the ancient philosopher Plato long before computers, Facebook, and text messages were ever thought of. In the story, a ring exists that would make the wearer completely invisible so they could rape, murder, steal, and vandalize as they wished without anyone else ever finding out they were the culprit. The story suggests that do not normally engage in those behaviors because they don’t want other people to know about their actions. However, when given the chance to do so without such a risk, the just and the unjust person would be equally willing to commit uncivilized acts.

Much of what we see and hear going on with technology suggests Plato may have been right, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to give in and relinquish our personal integrity just because we can behave in any way we want without the threat of punishment or even discovery.

First of all, everyone should operate under the assumption that nothing you put out there on the net is private. Part of the enormous advances in technology has been the ability to retrieve almost anything, no matter how well you think you’re protected. In truth, the idea that you are anonymous is a fallacy.

It might be a good idea to spend some time thinking about how you believe people should behave. For example, do you think hacking into someone’s social networking account and posting fake information about them is a hilarious practical joke or a violation of the person’s rights and privacy?

Once you have thought about what you think other people should do, you can apply those same ideas to your own actions. Whether you are using technology or not, you should always stop before taking an action or making a statement to make sure what you are about to do matches what you think other people should do. If it doesn’t match up, don’t do it. It may be difficult to hold yourself to the same standard – most of us are more willing to make exceptions for ourselves but not for other people – but you’ll hold onto your personal integrity and that’s more valuable than any piece of electronics or technology.

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