By: Stephen (Gabe) Hatch
The development of technology in recent decades arguably surpasses those made in the previous millennia. Words like texting, Tweeting, Posting, Swiping, and Pinning would likely sound alien to previous generations who had never heard of a Facebook, a smartphone, and still thought a tablet as medication swallowed for headache relief. Technological development remains unrestricted and unfathomable. A computer scientist recently mentioned to me, “It’s no longer a question of what we can create with technology, but what should we spend our time creating?” To those in control of future technological development, maintenance, or creation, I suggest: “Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing” (Computer Ethics Institute, 1992).
The Problem with Mental Health Apps:
With the advent of the smartphone and similar devices came the smartphone application (apps). Apps have encompassed every subject imaginable, and continue to be developed despite the initial and continuing expense. Competitors disagree on the average price of a smartphone application with development costing anywhere between $6,453-$321,000 per app (Formotus, 2016). In addition to initial expense, app maintenance and updates can range between $5,000-$11,000 per month (Formotus, 2016). Due to expensive development and upkeep, smartphone applications are worth developing to their fullest potential.
However, many mental health smartphone applications fail to live up to their expectations. For example, in 2013 there were 1,536 depression related apps available for download (Leigh & Flatt, 2015). Unfortunately, the National Health Service in the United Kingdom only recognizes 27 of these apps. Of the 27 recognized, 14 focus on the treatment of depression and anxiety. Of these 14, four provide evidence to substantiate their effectiveness, and two of which adequately assess clinical performance (Leigh & Flatt, 2015).
Of the 1,536 depression related apps available for download, less than 2% of them are recognized by national health organizations, provide evidence of their validity, and assess clinical performance. This means millions of dollars have been spent on development of depression related smartphone applications that are not recognized by national health organizations, that lack evidence ensuring their validity, and do not adequately assess the user’s clinical performance. Funding health related apps without assessing validity during app development could have detrimental effects on the users. Additionally, these consequences could adversely affect the field of study the app attempts to replicate.
PornHub, one of the internet pornography industries biggest providers, claim their site to have streamed 75 gigabytes of data a second last year (Enough Is Enough, 2016). If human that lived until they were 100 years old, they not live to be able to watch the amount of porn streamed from PornHub in one day. The consumption of pornography is usually associated with adverse consequences, such as: affecting sexual performance, increased narcissistic personality traits, and increased behavioral intent towards rape. Pornography has also been correlated with positive attitudes towards infidelity (Enough Is Enough, 2016). Further, those who have never watched pornography report higher relationship quality and lower rates of infidelity (Enough Is Enough, 2016).
Understandably, internet pornography is a profitable industry, and supply has to satisfy demand. However, by supporting a cause, one also supports its consequence. Individuals that support the growth, advancement, and dissemination of internet pornography ultimately support the increase of narcissism, intent towards rape, and positive attitudes towards infidelity. For individuals to continue in the development of pornographic material (i.e., the creation of new websites and videos) without thinking of the social repercussions specifically within families, marriages, and on children is irresponsible
Foremost, this paper is not designed to consign technology into the dichotomous state of “good” or “bad”. For every reason listed that technology is bad, one could indefinitely argue the contrary. How and why a user interfaces with technology ultimately determines the moral outcome. However, it is devastating that individuals insist on spending millions of dollars on app development without first, understanding the basics of appropriate measurement or ensuring the user proper treatment. It is equally disturbing when pornography is continually uploaded and pornographic websites are continually created, although pornography has been shown to lead to an increase in unfavorable behaviors and attitudes.
Without thinking about the social consequences of the program one is writing, or the system one is designing, one may produce a product that is socially undesirable. It is my belief, that proper planning, smart investing, and proper understanding – having future creators and developers think about the social consequences behind the development of a specific technology – will alleviate at least some of the issues associated with future technological development.