Book Review by Taylor Berrett
The subject of ethics gets a bad reputation in many circles. It’s considered the domain of lofty philosophers, professors, and thinkers that’s divorced from the real world the rest of us actually live in and attempt to navigate every day.
But in his highly effective book, Right/Wrong: How Technology Transforms Our Ethics, Juan Enriquez takes on ethics in a technologically-powered world with insight and powerful storytelling, bringing real-world issues into the ethical discussion in a fascinating and insightful way.
Right vs. Wrong: A Shifting Goal Post
The core thesis at the center of Right/Wrong is the idea that while we look at our current perception of ethics and morality as steadfast and immovable, the truth is that what’s considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ changes every day— and much faster than we think.
In service of this idea, Enriquez focuses largely on how technology has changed ethics and what that means for the way we judge right and wrong. While many believe that technology has led to the erosion of ethical behavior, the data-backed truth is that tech actually encourages ethical behavior. Technology allows new ideas and beliefs to grow and change.
However, Enriquez also acknowledges that the highly visible and permanent nature of tech— particularly social media— means that past mistakes are permanently tattooed on our personal histories. He emphasizes that many things now considered wrong were once commonplace and even widely accepted, and that it’s better to be compassionate about past mistakes based on their social context than to bring down the hammer on anyone who’s ethical ideals have evolved.
Get Uncomfortable in All the Best Ways
Generally, the best books are those that manage to make us feel a slight twinge of discomfort, presenting ideas that have the ability to slightly stretch our understanding of the world. In that sense, Right/Wrong is a huge success.
Juan Enriquez is an incredibly effective navigator into the uncomfortable, taking on challenging ideas with wit, compassion, and even humor. The book is written with a tone that says, “Listen, we’re all trying to figure this out together.” This is important, because Right/Wrong takes on some decidedly hot-button topics— COVID-19, sexuality, climate change, social justice, and more. In this way, Right/Wrong is not necessarily for those looking for a comfortable, affirming read.
Still, in the end, it’s the author’s decision to approach challenging questions of ethics with humility that makes Right/Wrong so effective. We’ll all be judged by future generations for the things we believe today. According to Enriquez, we may be better off judging past generations a bit less harshly.
Taylor Berrett is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and host of the podcast Alone in a Room. His other book reviews can be found here.