An Analysis on the Evolution and Impact of the Microscope’s Timeless Role in Society

There has been perhaps no tool more essential for scientific research than the microscope. The microscope has allowed humans to see, observe, and study aspects of life that would otherwise be invisible and impossible to understand. Humans uniquely possess innate curiosity which compels us to seek understanding of phenomenon we cannot directly experience, observe, or otherwise explain. It is incontestable that knowledge of the microscopic world has changed society. Rapid development of technology has allowed human culture to now seek for answers and fulfill curiosity scientifically. Rather than depending on sole rationale, philosophy, or speculated spiritual influences, many wonders of the universe can now be explained through concrete scientific evidence. For example, human illness used to be a mystery which some cultures explained by legends of evil spirits or angered gods. However, the invention of the microscope gave humans the power to see the microorganisms like bacteria and virus’ which physically trigger immune responses in the body and cause people to feel “sick”. Humans do not naturally have this power and have, in a sense, become “transhuman” because of microscopic and other optical lens technology. This technology is so exceptional because it has been utilized and adapted in countless different aspects of society for so many years. It is apparent that technology is radically evolving, so much so that many technologies have been replaced by a more efficient or higher functioning design, system, or methodical machine (ie. the typewriter by the computer, VHS by DVD’s and online streaming, the standard telephone by “smartphones”, etc.). However, the microscope is unique in the fact that it has earned an essentially timeless role in society by being the foundation of past and future scientific development.

This does not mean that the microscope has not evolved or been improved at all. The microscope has come a long way since its initial invention in the 1600’s. Yet, still to this day it embraces the same theoretical design and function while contributing to rapid technological progress. Civilizations have been embracing optics to enhance vision for centuries long before microscopes. Some of the earliest optic lenses have been around since 700 BC. Originally developed from polished crystal, civilizations have been modifying and perfecting the utilization of this technology ever since. Glass lenses first were developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but were not popularized until the Middle Ages.  The first “microscope” was developed around 1600 by Hans and Zacharias Jansen in the Netherlands (Ellis, 1998, p. 4- 10). Using the concept of the eye glass, the Jansen’s observed that combining or stacking multiple lenses together allows them to amplify the magnification of their object being observed even further. The multiple lens design gives way to the name most commonly used today, a “compound microscope” (Baker, 1742, p. 2). The design of the compound microscope is fairly simple. There is a movable platform where a specimen is placed, usually on a glass slide, to be observed. Underneath this platform is an adjustable light source to highlight features and characteristics of the specimen under magnification. Above the platform are a series of lenses with different powers of magnification called “objectives”. Objectives can be switched between while using the microscope, allowing the observer to more easily find a specimen on a slide (at low power) and then focus the image using the adjustable platform. Microscopes that are “parfocal” stay relatively in focus even when switching to higher or lower power objective lenses. Above the objectives are the ocular or eyepiece lens. The lenses typically have a magnification of “10X) meaning that they enhance the magnifying capabilities of the object lenses by an additional tenfold. For example, if a specimen was being observed using a “40X” objective lens, then the total magnification would be “400X”, enlarging the specimen’s image 400 times bigger than the original. (Mohler, K., Elasky, K., Ibba, M, 2008, p. 16-18). However, compound microscopes gave way to great manufacturing challenges at the time and were not always the chosen method for researchers. Once greater manufacturing capabilities were developed, modern science embraced the compound microscope design for its heightened efficiency and multi-optical functions. The term “microscope” refers to any device with “whatever structure or contrivance, that can make small objects appear larger than they do to the naked eye” (Baker 1742, p 1). In order to be effective for microscopic research, a microscope must have three essential features. The tool must be able to magnify small objects at very close distances (as oppose to its cousin technology, the telescope, which magnifies from very far distances). It must also be able to resolve the images of the objects, which is dependent on focusing the light waves by adjusting the distance between the lenses. Finally, it must have powerful enough magnification capabilities to make details visible on a specimen that were not previously capable of being observed by natural human eyesight.

Early microbiologists such as Anton Van Leeuwenhoek used these criteria to develop powerful (at the time) single lens scopes to make the earliest discoveries in this field. Leeuwenhoek, who became known as the “Father of Microbiology”, designed and manufactured his own instruments. Using his specified single lens scopes, which could achieve close to 200X magnification, he became the first to observe and describe a live “microorganism”. Leeuwenhoek based his discoveries off of preceding research on microscopic structures of already known macro organisms. One of the most influential researchers at this time doing this was Robert Hooke. Before Leeuwenhoek, Hooke used microscope technology to develop a theory of biological cells in living organisms. Building off of this research on microscopic structures, Leeuwenhoek discovered that there are lifeforms that are functioning independently at this incredibly tiny scale (Egerton, 2006, p 47-48). These discoveries at a microscopic level have led to greater understanding of how life on a larger scale functions.

It may seem though that once these discoveries have been made, that microscopic technology is no longer as pertinent to society. We have so much recorded evidence from past studies, surely there is enough known information to satisfy any future questions about the universe. Wrong. The driving force of human curiosity exponentially expands with greater knowledge. As more information about the universe’s mysteries that becomes available, the more questions that can be fathomed and more theories that need to be pursued. The microscope provides the critical abilities for future research in biology, physics, and chemistry to investigate the universe and provide new understandings to these continually developing questions. Today’s technological advances have allowed the microscope to become more refined and able to magnify at higher powers than ever before. Scientists have developed different and more advanced types of light microscopes in addition to the compound “bright-field” to more closely observe specific characteristics of microscopic specimens. These enhanced light microscopes include “phase-contrast” and “fluorescent” scopes. Researchers are even starting to embrace the use of electron microscopes. “As of today, the shortest wavelength of visible light, 450nm, sets limitations on the resolving power of even the beat light microscope lenses. The use of an electron microscope, however, enables the viewer to go beyond this limit by employing waves of electrons rather than waves of light to visualize objects” (Mohler, K., Elasky, K., Ibba, M. 2012, p. 27) There are two main types of electron microscopes, the transmission electron microscope (TEM) and the scanning  electron microscope (SEM). The TEM is utilized to see through specimens and observe internal structures such as mitochondria or nuclei. SEM scopes are utilized to observe specimen surfaces such as capsules or pili structures (Mohler, K., Elasky, K., Ibba, M. 2012, p. 26-27). These advanced adaptations of microscope technology have established commanding influence and proved to be a respected tool of resent scientific research,.

However, the microscope is not just a research tool. It is also an irreplaceable instrument in education to convey understanding of already known concepts and information. Young children are often first exposed to a simplified version of microscope technology through magnifying glasses. Children can be taught the valuable skills of investigation, develop critical thinking, and heightened curiosity by exploring the world around them and discovering answers for themselves. “We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception and to make every day learning a process of discovery” (McLuhen, 2001, p. 69). Society then introduces more expensive and complex microscopes to students as they transition into higher level courses throughout high school and college. When studying and trying to understand microorganisms or microscopic concepts such as cells, it is more effective and meaningful if students can physically experience the information being presented (Raymond, 2009, p. 1-4).

Microscopes are also essential part of society by allowing law enforcement to examine forensic evidence. New forensic technology, such as the discovery of DNA, has revolutionized how criminal investigations are conducted and how offenders can be convicted. Although the media has exaggerated much of forensic capability through television shows like “CSI”, law enforcement is now significantly more capable of accurately convicting an offender for a crime. Microscopes also opened the door for other technological concepts to explore development at very small scales. The inventions of micro and “Nano technologies” are being rapidly incorporated in everyday technologies to make them slimmer, lighter, higher functioning, and more appealing to consumers. Without ability to “see” at these microscopic levels, development of these other technologies could not be conceived.

It is evident that humans are becoming increasingly reliant on optical technology in all aspects of everyday life. As Marshal McLuhan described in The Medium is the Massage, “All media are extensions of some human faculty- psychic or physical” (p. 26).  Today’s society is using the microscope as an extension of the eye. This extension can be seen as transforming human ability and developing the “transhuman” experience. Transhumanism is a developing concept that human nature is rapidly evolving because of widespread technological enhancement on physical, intellectual, and psychological competencies. Optical lenses do not just enhance scientific discovery, but also everyday life. Even simple optical technology such as eyeglasses excel human’s natural sight limitations or at least compromise for natural human deficiencies Eye glasses are utilized by millions of people to enhance their inherently poor eyesight. Today, the simple eyeglass has been even further reformed as contacts. This allows sight challenged people to perform a multitude of ordinary tasks, like reading a book or driving a car with ease, whereas their poor eyesight would have naturally hindered or prevented them from doing so. There is no doubt that development of modern medicine has been dependent on research through a microscope and has greatly contributed to advances in society. Diagnosing diseases has become more easy and accurate by being able to actually observe a specific pathogen under microscopes. Researchers can then grow these pathogens under test conditions and test methods to try to destroy it. Modern medical science has therefore become extremely efficient.  However, some would argue that not all of modern medicine’s consequences to society have been positive. Increased life span has blessed modern generations with longer lives, but is also posing socioeconomic problems in the healthcare systems. Modern medicine has also posed several ethical and moral questions that are heavy topics of conflict and debate in society such as abortion, genetic engineering, or life support. These issues pose a critical question whether or not our transhuman capabilities with microscopes is allowing us to make technological evolutions that are not meant to be or simply should not be made by the human race.

Despite these moral questions, scientific exploration and technological development will continue to satisfy the ever persistent curiosity and innovation of humans. It is imperative for understanding macroscopic problems and mysteries to be able to first observe the microscopic factors and mechanisms involved. The microscope has been the standard and everlasting technology used to reach these understandings and conduct new investigation. Even though technology has transformed the microscope and greatly enhanced its capabilities, the mechanism remains timeless. New electron microscopes have commanded new routes of research, but have their limitations and specific uses. The compound light microscope is universal and can be utilized in almost any laboratory. Microscopes our foundational education tools for aspiring scientists and provide the basis of micro technology. As long as human curiosity pursues understanding of the universe, greater medical capabilities, or mechanical technology advancement, the microscope will remain a foundational and necessary tool in society.


Baker, H. (1742). The microscope made easy: Or, I. The nature, uses, and magnifying powers of the best kinds of microscopes described, calculated, and explained: for the Instruction of such, particularly, as desire to search into the Wonders of the Minute Creation, tho’ they are not acquainted with Optics. Together with Full Directions how to prepare, apply, examine, and preserve all Sorts of Objects, and proper Cautions to be observed in viewing them. II. An account of what surprizing discoveries have been already made by the microscope: With useful Reflections on them. And also a great variety of new experiments and observations, pointing out many uncommon Subjects for the Examination of the Curious. By Henry Baker, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Member of the Society of Antiquaries, in London. Illustrated with Copper Plates. London: Printed for R. Dodsley, at Tully’s Head in Pall-Mall.

Egerton, Frank N. (2006). “A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 19: Leeuwenhoek’s Microscopic Natural History”. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 87: 47-48

Ellis, W. S. (1998). Glass: From the first mirror to fiber optics, the story of the substance that changed the world. New York: Avon Books.

McLuhan, M. (2001). The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press.

Mohler, K., Elasky, K., Ibba, M. (2012) Microbiology 4000 Lab Manual. The Ohio State University Department of Microbiology. p. 15-28

Raymond, Coleman.(2009) “Can histology and pathology be taught without microscopes? The advantages and disadvantages of virtual histology”, Acta Histochemica, Volume 111, Issue 1, Pages 1-4

Our Class Archive

I have to admit that this class surprised me at times. If I could narrow down the main takeaways from this course, I would say that I have a broadened appreciation for and heightened recognition of technology’s impact on individuals, nature, and society as a whole. I expected us to solely focus on complex or rapidly evolving technologies, but a lot of us throughout the evolution of the blog began to realize how almost anything is a form of technology. Whether it’s the new ways that we communicate, entertain ourselves, provide medicinal relief, etc. human beings utilize technology. As a class, we began reflecting most on what we are most passionate about and utilize the most in our lives. One common technology that lots of us either reflected on in a blog or at some point during class is the impact of music technology. I find it interesting how music has been prevalent in virtually all cultures. Even though it has evolved in some areas, it has mostly encompassed the same identity throughout time. Everyone has been touched or impacted by music at some point in our lives, even the deaf who can sense vibrations, yet it isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when asked about “technology.” I’ve always had an understanding that music just “exists”. Before this class, I never classified it as a technology as I would computers, cell phones, or flat screen TV’s. I have come to gain a much greater appreciation for what the word technology encompasses.

The diversity of this course, I think, is best demonstrated by starting each class with the meditation bell. Seth emphasized the importance of this bell before every class, which called to mind simplicity before launching into heavy, complex, and often controversial topics such as GMO’s, artificial intelligence, cloning/ gene therapy, etc. Not all “technology” has to be complex, flashy, or mind blowing. It just has to have an impact

Another thing that I found interesting is that as a class we tended to avoid these highly controversial and widely talked about technological topics in our blog. This is somewhat surprising because these are topics that are very prevalent in society and interesting to research. However, as a class we tended to stay on a much more personal note and write about the technologies that impacted us the most, or that we were most familiar with. For our blog posts relating to our final paper subject, most of us wrote a personal reflection on why we chose our topic. These reflections show that as a class, most of us wanted to write about things that pertained to our lives or has had some sort of profound impact.

In class, we frequently discussed how technologies serve as an “archive of feelings.” Our blog, in a sense, serves just that. Not only do we have an archive on what we learned and discussed in this class, but also an archive of who was involved in this learning process. As authors, we tend to think that the writing we create is a sole reflection of our own identities. If someone picked apart this blog, they would find many different, unique authors. However; as a collective class, our writings come together and create a new identity.

Microscope Research Sources

To prepare for writing my final essay, I decided to gather ten possible sources to use for my research. I attempted to find a mix of both historical books and recent peer reviewed articles to give my paper a range of perspectives. I have also found that articles make gathering and compiling research a lot easier because they tend to me less dense and more directive with important information. One challenge that I foresee is synthesizing a clear directive for this essay. It is going to be very easy to write a simple summary of the microscopes history, but will be a challenge to take this information to the next step and develop my desired thesis. It almost seemed like the microscope has been overlooked in society, so no one has really dedicated time to researching or analyzing its impact because it is not a controversial topic. Everyone is aware of what microscopes do and agree that they are important to society, and rarely question how they may impact the future or have helped society develop. I was considering switching to a much more controversial topic such as AI, thinking that it may have mire in depth and analytical research since it is a source of controversy in society. However, I think an important challenge of this course is to encourage us to reflect on society’s reliance on even the simplest technologies, and how we are changing do to these relationships.

Baker, H. (1742). The microscope made easy: Or, I. The nature, uses, and magnifying powers of the best kinds of microscopes described, calculated, and explained: for the Instruction of such, particularly, as desire to search into the Wonders of the Minute Creation, tho’ they are not acquainted with Optics. Together with Full Directions how to prepare, apply, examine, and preserve all Sorts of Objects, and proper Cautions to be observed in viewing them. II. An account of what surprizing discoveries have been already made by the microscope: With useful Reflections on them. And also a great variety of new experiments and observations, pointing out many uncommon Subjects for the Examination of the Curious. By Henry Baker, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Member of the Society of Antiquaries, in London. Illustrated with Copper Plates. London: Printed for R. Dodsley, at Tully’s Head in Pall-Mall.

Carpenter, W. B. (1883). The microscope and its revelations. New York: Wood.

Ellis, W. S. (1998). Glass: From the first mirror to fiber optics, the story of the substance that changed the world. New York: Avon Books.

Fournier, M. (1996). The fabric of life: Microscopy in the seventeenth century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gilbert JA, Neufeld JD (2014) Life in a World without Microbes. PLoS Biol 12(12): e1002020. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002020

Kalderon, A. E. (January 01, 1983). The evolution of microscope design from its invention to the present days. The American Journal of Surgical Pathology, 7, 1, 95-102

Lee, E. H., Hsin, J., Sotomayor, M., Comellas, G., & Schulten, K. (January 01, 2009). Discovery through the computational microscope. Structure (london, England : 1993), 17, 10, 1295-306.

Rasmussen, N. (1997). Picture control: The electron microscope and the transformation of biology in America, 1940-1960. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Rasmussen, Seth C. (2012) “How Glass Changed the World: The History and Chemistry of Glass from Antiquity to the 13th Century. Springer Science & Business Media.

Raymond, Coleman.(2009) “Can histology and pathology be taught without microscopes? The advantages and disadvantages of virtual histology”, Acta Histochemica, Volume 111, Issue 1, Pages 1-4,

Microscope Research Paper Outline


Research Question:

What is the microscopes role in society’s technological and scientific development?

Thesis? A microscope is a timeless technology that is the foundation of past and future scientific development.

  1. History-use of optical glass lenses by Greeks and Romans (perfected in Middle Ages)
  2. -First “microscope” Hans and Zacharias Jansen
  3. – Discovery of bending light (using polished crystals) to enhance size of images (Early as 700 BC.).
  1. Definition

– What is a microscope?

– How does it work?

– Simple concept, multiple lenses (multiply magnification power)


-magnify (objects at Close distances)

-resolve object (dependent on light waves)

– make details visible

– Difference between telescope and other optical lenses

– Robert Hooke- first use to define “microbe”

  1. Why do we need microscopes?
  • fulfills innate human “curiosity
  1. USES
    • Understanding of how nature works
    • Biology, physics, etc
    • Research
    • Education (used in science labs in schools to help teach concepts)
  • impact of microbial world
    • (Diseases, medicine, food production,).
  • -Understanding the microbial world provides answers to larger scale phenomenon
  • Forensics? (other forms of scientific investigations besides research)
  1. Connection between science and technology
  •  “Micro” and Nano technology concepts
  • Chemistry and energy advances
  • Medicine
  1. Evolution of “trans-humanism”
  •  Bring back to eyeglasses- just simple tasks made possible! “Excel human’s natural sight limitations or at least compromise for natural human deficiencies.
  • Diagnosing diseases (Much more easy and accurate if you can actually SEE specific pathogen!)
    • Modern medicine and Life span increase
  • Consequences? Are we perhaps now “seeing” and observing things that were not “meant” to be seen. When has our curiosity gone too far?
  1. Future?
  • What role do microscopes have in the future of science? / How will this technology evolve?
  • Obviously still greatly needed- High number of scientific research (exact stat find during research) involves some sort of microscopic component/ observation
  • Their own development- Electron microscopes, SEM TEM, etc (different light settings, higher magnifying power, etc) Limitations of traditional compound. Specific uses for each kind (is one better to research different things..etc)
  • Is this technology “timeless?” (Unlike other technologies which are replaced or just no longer have a need in society anymore)
  • *This might be one of the most important aspects of this paper that I’ll focus on. I think it is important to look at technology not only at what it has given us, but also at its potential! I think it is very rare for a technology that has remained fairly similar in concept and design throughout hundreds of years has been the foundation for an unbelievable amount of other breakthrough, new, and rapidly developing technologies.
  • Human curiosity will always drive us to ask questions about the “invisible world”. Will there ever be a point in society when we know everything there is to know about the natural world, biological phenomenon, etc.
  • *Tie curiosity back to beginning (why have microscopes?) and as evidence for why technology will be timeless.
  1. Conclusion

Personal Research Reflection: Microscopes

I was drawn to research and write about the innovation and development of this technology because of its direct impact on scientific research. Since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed learning about science and exploring its innovative capabilities. I remember from my childhood making “volcanoes” with baking soda and vinegar, or catching different wildlife like salamanders, frogs, and crawdads in my backyard creek. I even had a toy magnifying glass, and would try lighting small fires by focusing the sun’s rays. As I grew older and started taking science classes in school, I was introduced to the microscope.

When I first thought about the power and influence of microscopes, it hit me just how common and prevalent this technology really is in today’s society. After all, a microscope is really just a more powerful and refined pair of eyeglasses. If I wanted to, I could research a whole bunch of different topics and technologies that utilize optics such as a camera (lens), telescope, eyeglasses, magnifying glass, etc. One thing that I think is interesting to note that although all of these technologies are used for different specific tasks, they all fulfill or satisfy human curiosity. It is remarkable to me how far our society has come because of advances in scientific discovery which has all been driven by the simple power of human curiosity. Curiosity is a desire to explain that what we do not already know. For many years the mysteries things as vast as space, or as small as microorganisms, were beyond curiosities capabilities. We were simply left to wonder or speculate without truly being able to investigate for answers. It amazes me how much being able to bend light to amplify an image has been utilized for so many different functions and to make so many revolutionizing discoveries.

When you think about technology in today’s society, you often think about the rapidly changing iPhones or new computers and such. However, if someone were to be asked to describe how a microscope has changed within the last 10, 20, even 50 years, most would not know how to respond. This is because this technology hasn’t changed all that much. Surely it has been refined and improved with better quality materials, higher power lenses, etc, but the foundational concept of using multiple focusing lenses with a light source has been left unchanged. Yet remarkably, this unchanging technology has been a vital key for change in society. Although, new microscope technology’s such as electron microscopes (TEM, SEM, etc) have been developed and utilized for more advanced research. I would like to include research on these developments and outline the future of the microscope in society. Can this technology perhaps “last forever?”

I am fascinated by the capabilities of science and as a science major hope to incorporate it into my future life. I am particularly interested in forensics, which greatly utilizes microscope’s ability to analyze evidence that is not visible by the human eye. Microscopes are used in virtually every science research lab and open up the world to endless possibilities.

Optic Lenses and Microscopes

Some of the earliest optic lenses have been around since 700 BC. Originally developed from polished crystal, civilizations have been modifying and perfecting the utilization of this technology ever since. Glass lenses first were developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but were not popularized until the Middle Ages.

Even today, eye glasses are utilized by millions of people to enhance their inherently poor eyesight. Today, the simple eyeglass has been even further reformed as contacts. This allows sight challenged people to perform a multitude of ordinary tasks, like reading a book or driving a car with ease, whereas their poor eyesight would have naturally hindered or prevented them from doing so.

This technology has been utilized by society in so many different ways. A lens can be used primitively to start a fire using the sun’s rays, read small text whether as a large magnifying glass or small compact contact, and even enhance other complex technologies such as the camera. The beauty of this technology is that it helps humans observe things that we couldn’t normally observe. Whether it’s something super large and far away through a telescope, or super small but close through a microscope.

For my paper, I would like to focus on a particular application of optic lens technology- the microscope. The first microscope was developed around 1600 by Hans and Zacharias Jansen in the Netherlands. Since then it has revolutionized the world through scientific exploration and discovery. Using the concept of the eyeglass, the Jansens observed that combining/stacking multiple lenses together allows them to amplify the magnification of their object being observed even further. A telescope in fact uses the same concept.  The microscope allows us to see things that are not visible by the human eye, which allows us to answer questions about how the universe works. It has been a crucial instrument in building the fundamentals in scientific fields such as chemistry and biology.

Like I said before, this is a remarkable technology that has derived from a very simple concept (bending rays of light) and has been perfected and refined over generations to open up a whole new realm of possibilities for making scientific discoveries. Most scientific discoveries are driven by human curiosity: seeking to explain the unexplainable. Most of these life mysteries stem from properties that we can see with the naked eye. This remarkable ability to see and observe the “invisible” is often overlooked, especially since this technology is so readily used but its importance should not be forgotten.

For my final research paper, I would like to analyze the impact and utilization of microscopes in today’s society. I will probably begin with research about its history and development from common/ simple optical lenses and discuss a few major scientific discoveries/ historical impacts that it has made. I am also interested in learning about the physics behind how microscopes particularly work and discuss how microscopes are still being improved and what new capabilities they now have as this technology has evolved/advanced. This can transition into the future of the microscope and what future discoveries it may help lead us to.


“History of Optics” – Wikipedia

The Invisible World: Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope Catherine Wilson Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995

Security Exploitation by Our Technological Devices

Erik Vokoun

Seth Josephson

Science and Technology in the US

11 March 2015

Security Exploitation by Our Technological Devices

It is becoming evident that society has become more and more reliant on technology. Especially within the last decade, the incorporation of portable technologies such as smartphones, laptops, iPads and iPods into our daily lives have revolutionized the way people interact socially, communicate, and inquire knowledge. For many people, our technological devices provide us with a “safety net” for reality. They give a sense of security in our hands and evoke panic when their familiar lump in our pockets feel empty. Some technology critics, such as Sherry Turkle, argue that technology is making society more isolated by providing an alternate cyber universe to escape into through our digital personas. However, we face a startling reality that these seemingly detached, private, and secure identities born through our technological devices consequentially provide an entryway for our actual lives to be monitored, hacked, and exploited.

Our own governments are in fact some of the largest culprits of this privacy invasion. “Of course, it’s no secret that governments are able to intercept telephone calls and text messages” said Christopher Soghoian, an expert on government surveillance and hacking technology. Hacking technology has now become a 5 billion dollar industry and is being spearheaded by third party companies, like Gamma in Germany, which sell their software to governments for catching terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, tax evaders, etc. The FBI has been confirmed to have its own hacking technology for law enforcement and intelligence techniques. The big problem of governments going into hacking, according to Soghoian, is that terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and human rights journalists all use the same kinds of technology as the general public. This gives the government a tremendous amount of exploitation power to monitor and tap into almost anyone’s “personal” lives without almost any regulation or opposition. In fact their power exceeds interception of information and now allows direct access to webcams, microphones, and documents on devices (Soghoian).

The fact that governments have this power became most apparent to the public following the implementation of the US PATRIOT Act in 2001 following the September 11th terrorist attacks. This Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” legally gives the Government consent to tap into citizens personal lives through our technological devices. Not only does this act disguise its exploitation with a clever title acronym, but also makes privacy invasion okay according to the law despite its complicated ethical implications.

As a society, it is alarming how accustomed we have become to this exploitation. We are becoming more and more public as a culture and can be demonstrated by how we post everything about our lives on social media. As Turkle analyzes, we create a sense of connection and community by our participation in these online societies. “People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude” (Turkle, 3). Where our direct human interaction may suffer, society has no doubt strengthened our connection through online personas. Our standards for privacy and understanding of what should be private have greatly changed throughout the past decade. The ethical debate over governments and large corporations having this hacking capability is often muffled by the public’s apathy. Many people simply hold the position “Why would the government care about me?” or “Who cares if the government sees what I can do?” It is also being portrayed as a positive capability of the government which will help assure the overall safety and security of the nation as a whole. Accepting and supporting the government’s hacking programs is directly labeled as a “patriotic” act which is in support of one’s country. The “PATRIOT” Act is cleverly named to convey such positive implication and generate instinctual support from its citizens. We are asked to sacrifice our own individual privacy to gain national security, but are we really okay with this? Even if we are tolerant of our governments invading our privacy, there are other corporations such as cell phone applications that also take advantage of our technological portals.

Snapchat is one of the largest developing mobile application for communications. It provides its users with the ability to share and communicate using temporary photos with captions that are (falsely) promised to “disappear” after a specified amount of time. However, like governments, Snapchat uses its application to collect data about its users and monitor their personal lives. Snapchat and other application companies protects their hacking capabilities through lengthy user Agreements that the majority of users blindly sign. These agreements also contain very vague statements which contain hidden exploitive power. Snapchat’s agreement includes the consent for the application to access the mobile devices camera. This makes sense in hindsight considering it is a photo sharing application. However, in reality this statement gives the application company permission to hack into a user’s camera at any time, turn off shutter, and take pictures without the owner being aware. The user agreement also grants the company permission to store user’s location and extract contact information (Louisville FBI).

Again, as users we must evaluate the ethics behind these capabilities and whether or not we should continue to allow our privacy to be violated. In a capitalistic society it is expected that every service should come at a price. Yet, people rarely question when they see a “free” application or log onto a “free” service such as Facebook. What we tend to forget is that as users, we become the product being sold for these free applications. These companies use our personal information primarily to sell to marketers for profit. One random teenager’s actions may not seem significant at all, but when compiled with millions of other users, marketers can in fact get very detailed and accurate information about their target audiences. When put into this context, the public still hold either positive or indifferent opinions about allowing these companies access to their privacy. However, when faced with the image of a physical person “listening in” or “watching” your life, the ethical problems and insecure feelings become much more apparent. These feelings are easy to ignore and seem less invasive when we can picture a large corporation or government behind these exploitations or when we are provided with a service such as the enjoyment of an application or the promise of national security. The scary fact is that hacking technology is not just limited to these major corporations, but abusive individuals. This in when our lives can dangerously impacted.

With the increase reliance on and utilization of mobile technology in our daily lives, people have greatly raised their chances and ability to be victims of identity theft, spam, viruses/ malware, etc. As I mentioned before, society now promotes the sharing of personal information through posting photographs, life events, or even videos from vacations. This influx of information allows individual hackers and spammers a plethora of information to prey off of. In addition, we become more reliant on technology, specifically mobile cell “smart phones” to operate. We use our phones to check email, shop online, GPS, share contacts, store passwords, and now even use as our credit cards. Cell phones in the last decade have become so much more than calling devices, but personal mobile computers. The issue with this is that these mobile devices are just as easy to hack into as standard PC’s or desktop computers. Most users are aware of the threats of viruses/malware, internet hackers, and identity thieves with their desktop computer and have anti malware protection programs on their devices, but fail to recognize the same existing threats with their mobile phones. However, since these phones are always with us, used much more often, and now contain even more sensitive/private information, they become even more vulnerable (Gahran).

While attending a job shadow presentation on IT security with the FBI in Louisville, Kentucky last spring, I was demonstrated by a Special Agent just how easy it is for our mobile devices to be exploited. At a local Panera, just down the street from my high school, he was able to access up to 6 strangers’ personal devices and information by creating a fake hotspot with his own computer that he named “Panera Free Wifi.” These people mindlessly connected to this network, or even worse had their devices set to automatically connect to open networks, and began working on average, daily tasks. The agent however was able to connect to their devices through the shared network and display their screens onto his own device. As these strangers began logging onto social media and emails, he could save their passwords which they were directly typing in and giving to him. This becomes dangerous when one stranger may decide to check his or her banking account or log into Amazon, where their credit card information is stored (Louisville FBI). These strangers were lucky that the person doing this was a moral FBI agent doing a presentation, however there are millions of people every year that are victims of similar exploitation by individuals with much more malicious intentions.

In conclusion, the lives we live online and through our technological devices are not as private and secure as we may think. Even when awareness of company’s or government capabilities to hack and steal information about us becomes apparent, society tends to neglect these ethical violations in order to maintain enjoyment from these companies products, or promised national security. However, these technologies can fall into the wrong hands and lead to much more serious consequences. Christopher Soghoian urges at the end of his presentation the need for an informed public and an active debate on this topic. This power can and will only continue to manifest and become more and more dangerous if decided to use in favor of one party over another. This is an issue where ethical lines have not yet been established, or even challenged. It should no longer be a social norm to accept this exploitation without question, opposition, or even regulation. As a culture, we must decide these lines. This can be done just by self-checking one self’s actions. Simply pausing to reflect who might possibly view or have access to what we are doing with our technology or educating oneself on how to become less reliant on technology. This will especially be important when handling private information such as social security or credit card numbers, which can have detrimental consequences when exploited. The social apathy/ “who cares?” attitude towards corporation hackers is drastically different when it is a Friday night “selfie” being hacked versus a person’s bank account. Therefore, until better defined regulatory legislation can be established for this issue, even then there is no guarantee against criminal hackers, our privacy is in our hands. It is our responsibility to uphold justice and still maintain our freedom of personal privacy, which can both be controlled by how we continue to utilize developing technology in our society.

Works Cited

Gahran, Amy “Mobile Phones: what are the risks?” CNN. June 17 2011

Louisville FBI. IT SECURITY PRESENTATION. “2014 High School Job Shadow Day” February 24 2014.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. , 2011. Print.

Soghoian, Christopher “Government Surveillance- this is just the beginning” TED fellows Retreat. August 18 2013.