Danger Ahead Redux

Fearful kitten with arched back

Fear (photo courtesy of Andreas D.)

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people on Facebook about my last post related to social workers and their fear of technology. New technologies all raise questions about how to use the technology in a way that is consistent with our values and ethics. In order to do this, it’s necessary to fully understand the technology: it’s strengths and limitations, the nature of the privacy protections that exist, and, I would add, the cultural norms for it’s use. By the latter I mean that each tool has it’s own set of cultural norms, i.e., what’s okay on Facebook differs from the norms on Twitter.  So, of course, each tool requires that we learn about all of these aspects and consider how to apply our values and ethics in this context.

Mary Carney (social work faculty member at SUNY Fredonia) noted in a Facebook comment that Mary Richmond wrote about confidentiality issues and the telegraph in her classic book Social Diagnosis. Robin Shapiro (clinical social worker in private practice) shared this wonderful blog post where she summarized what she learned at a workshop on ethics, technology and therapy. These are exactly the dialogues that need to take place whenever any new technology is introduced.

What I object to in the wording of the 2010 Social Work Congress imperative on technology is the fact that some people felt they needed to specify that technology be implemented ethically, responsibly, etc., for this imperative and none of the others; there’s an assumption that people need to be told this and if not instructed to behave this way, they may well behave unethically and irresponsibly either because that’s who they are, or because the technology has the power to corrupt them.

It will be impossible for the social work profession to move fully into the 21st century without integrating technology into our work. I have dialogued with many social workers about their fears–these are important dialogues to have. But we need to have the dialogues in the open, now.  Because, as is true for our clients,  our fears will keep the profession  stuck if they aren’t surfaced and addressed.

Photo courtesy of Andreas D