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Three Bolivian women smile and laugh together at a training workshop

From: Participatory communication - Footsteps 117

How to provide opportunities for people to share their ideas and influence change

Smartphones have many advantages. As well as making it easier for people to keep in touch with loved ones, they can be used to access the internet for information and education, and to make and receive secure payments. They can also be used to take photos, make videos and arrange meetings and community events.   

But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Our experience of life suggests that it can be, and this insight also applies to new technologies. Here are a few concerns to look out for to ensure we minimise the downsides and maximise the benefits of this relatively new technology.

Boundaries

The quality of our relationships – with God, with one another and with the world around us – depends on the quality of the attention that we give to these relationships. Having so much information at our fingertips, messages to respond to etc, can reduce our ability to slow down and really listen to each other. 

Being aware that we are vulnerable to spending too much time on our phones can help us to put boundaries in place – for example turning off our phones at certain times of the day – and to prioritise face-to-face conversations where we can.
 
‘The quality of our relationships depends on the quality of the attention that we give to these relationships’

Algorithmic bias

Our online habits are governed by algorithms. These are computer codes that efficiently manage the flow of information. As they are currently designed, popular social networking sites and search engines can create a ‘filter bubble’ where our existing habits often get reinforced and exaggerated. For example, two people will receive different answers to a news search based on their location and previous search history. And social networks will tend to suggest we connect with those most similar to ourselves, potentially closing us off from others. 

This is called algorithmic bias, and becoming aware that it exists helps us to think creatively about our habits online. We can consider the settings on the mobile phone applications we use and check different sources to make sure that the information we are receiving is accurate. We can also make an effort to stay connected with, and learn from, people who are different to us. 
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Written by

Written by  Matt Prior

Matt Prior is a tutor and lecturer in ethics at St Mellitus College, UK

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