Jim Caccamo, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair

Areas Taught: Religious Studies, Theology

Expertise: Ethics of Media, Computing and Telecommunications Technology

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Examining the Convergence of Ethics and New Technologies

As technology advances, consumers adapt to new business, educational and social realities. But technological change can also alter the ethical landscape. That’s where social ethicist Jim Caccamo, Ph.D., associate professor of theology, comes in.

A former computer programmer, Caccamo’s interest in the ethics of information technology led him to offer an upper level course that covers topics like cell phone use, online file sharing, technology access and bodily enhancement. “In class, students address questions about their use of technology, including ‘Is there ever any reason to turn off my cell phone?’” Caccamo says. “Having grown up with numerous gadgets, they haven’t thought much about whether or not technology may have a moral down side.”

For Caccamo, examining the ethics of technology involves more than just creating new rules for people to follow. “It’s important to look at rules and values, but I’m also interested in our behaviors around technology. As new technologies emerge, we adopt them and shift our lives around to make space for them. Each of these changes can be so small that they seem insignificant. But after a while, the minor implications add up. By the time we wonder if it is really making us more human, we’re in pretty deep,” Caccamo says.

On the adoption of social networking technologies, from texting to Facebook to location aware services like Foursquare, Caccamo says that using tech to surf social groups can enhance friendships and extend social capital.

“But the technologies can also habituate us into engaging only one aspect of our lives at a time,” he notes. “We can become accustomed to compartmentalizing our lives and can lose track of what it means to be full, authentic selves.  Even something as simple as maintaining an up-to-date – or up-to-the-moment – digital persona takes a lot of time. We may spend so much time cultivating our personas that we lose the habit of cultivating our neighbors.  We never intend that, yet it happens.”

Caccamo doesn’t think that information and social technologies are bad or that people should stop using them. “These networks have brought positive change to our lives,” he says. “But we do need to be very intentional about how we use technology because it alters our lives, and not always in ways that enable us to uphold human dignity and the common good.”

Caccamo’s publications include an article on the ethics of branding in The Journal of Business Ethics and the educational interactive software program Living Worship. He was recently awarded the Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grant for Researchers to write the book, Rewiring Virtue: Christian Ethics in an Age of Gadgets. He has commented on technology and social media as well as trends in spiritual life for WHYY’s Voices in the Family, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Providence Journal, Connecticut Post and for multiple television news outlets.

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