Marvel comics author Stan Lee teaches us the ultimate lesson in the Spider-Man series, "With great power comes great responsibility."
I have often used the line "With great power comes great responsibility" in discussing technology in general, and the internet in particular. There have been many changes in the world since the internet went commercial in the 1990s. We need to understand the power, and responsibility, that comes with this new wave of information and technology.
Origins of the phrase
The Spider-Man movie with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was pretty popular when it came out in 2002, and the original movie was followed by two sequels. Comic book geeks will tell you exactly when and where the phrase "With great power comes great responsibility" was first used in the realm of Spider-Man, but it stuck in my mind because of the 2002 Spider-Man movie.
Some folks believe the origin of the phrase is based on a biblical quote of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Gospel According to Luke, Luke records Jesus as saying, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." (Luke 12:48). Variations on the phrase "To whom much is given, much is expected" have been used often throughout history.
I have seen the phrase associated with French philosopher Voltaire on several websites with no specific references given. Many references associate the use of "With great power comes great responsibility" to either British statesman Winston Churchill or American President Theodore Roosevelt. Both of these references can be verified.
"The Parliamentary Debates" By Great Britain Parliament, contains a 1906 speech in the House of Commons by Winston Churchill that contains the following, "Where there is great power there is great responsibility, where there is less power there is less responsibility, and where there is no power there can, I think, be no responsibility."
"Theodore Roosevelt and His Time: Shown in His Own Letters" By Joseph Bucklin Bishop, contains a letter to Sir George Otto Trevelyan by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, "I believe in a strong executive; I believe in power; but I believe that responsibility should go with power, and that it is not well that the strong executive should be a perpetual executive."
The inspiration for a theme
As you read through this section you will see how the phrase with great power comes great responsibility provides a good starting point for a discussion on the power and responsibility of the internet. The use of this specific phrase on the internet adds an amusing aspect to the discussion. Many quotes used in motivation posters and feel good websites are attributed to famous people based on myths and urban legends. Like many things on the internet, the myth becomes truth on the internet because it is repeated so many times. "With great power comes great responsibility" is one of those phrases that has become an internet meme and developed a life of its own.
Regardless of the origin, "With great power comes great responsibility," is a powerful phrase in illustrating the rewards versus the risks in the use of science and technology.
The theme of power versus responsibility from the Spider-Man movies reminded me of the Outer Limits, a television show that first appeared in the 1960s. The Outer Limits series did not have a catchy phrase to remember like Spider-Man, but the stories always ended with a moral to be told. Outer Limits has that same sense of the great power of science balanced against the responsibility to use it wisely.
The brave new online world
Not long after the web went commercial buzzwords like Web 2.0 and Social Media invaded our lives. Just as the origin of the phrase "With great power comes great responsibility" can be traced back many years, the new wave Web 2.0 technology incorporates many old school philosophies that are much older than modern technology. The concept of social networking has existed in various forms since long before the internet. A strong sense of community is important to people and has been associated with both physical and mental well-being in our modern world.
As special interest groups went from the neighborhood clubs in the physical world to online communities in the virtual world, the result is a mixed bag of positive benefits and negative concerns. On the positive side, online forums give people from all over the world the opportunity to share ideas and interact. In the early days of special interest groups on online services, I connected with people in other countries that I otherwise would not have the chance to meet. Many years later I stay in touch with business and technology professionals I met online. But as social media becomes more widely used, there are many growing concerns about a new generation of social misfits, as people increasingly substitute online socializing for face-to-face interactions.
The power of the internet allows us to connect with new people. The responsibility of using the internet is to be aware that the people you meet online are not always who they claim to be. Many parents are concerned about their child's technology use because of the potential dangers. The concern of who your children are talking to has new meaning in the age of social media.
Even though their use is increasing every day, there is a growing distrust of social networking sites. Privacy and personal security concerns become hot topics as websites gather personal information for profiling users to enable advertisers to target them more productively. Ethical and legal concerns are raised as websites make money by selling our digital footprints.
Recruiters research prospective candidates on social networking sites as part of pre-hire screening. Social media users have not all learned that the delete key is an illusion. The curse of the digital age is once information is accessed on the internet and passed on to others, there is no way to take it back.
The Guru 42 Universe explores the brave new online world balancing great power with great responsibility,
Various sections of the Guru 42 Universe were written with different goals in mind. Some sections are mainly instructional, to explain technical terms and concepts. Other sections, such as this one, take a philosophical look at using technology. Whether you are simply an end-user of technology in your home or office, or a business owner or manager looking to be more productive we attempt to stretch your mind and hopefully, you will take a look at things in new ways.
Success in using technology as a tool involves understanding the power of modern technology to share ideas and the responsibility to use it wisely.
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Tom Peracchio is not a university professor with a team of editors and advisers. He is one man who loves technology and history and tells stories to increase awareness, educate, and entertain. Support the efforts of Tom in developing the Guru 42 Universe by your small donation here at Buy me a coffee.