Saturday, October 02, 2010

Information Ethics: Of Course

Information Ethics:  Of Course

Time can be a wonderful perspective enhancer.  When I was younger, I took the slights in my early years in academic institutions very personally.  I couldn't see beyond myself into the workings of a turbulent system struggling with change and threats to the professional and personal stakes of others.  Enjoying my student years in the enthusiasm surrounding huge educational expenditures in the sixties and early seventies,  I never imagined that it would end.  But it did, and those of us who put our trust in the liberal arts and the promises of democracy reborn faced challenges that would unfold in the midst of diminishing funds and historic global shifts.  For sure, we could not have imagined the Internet.  Or could we?

Personal Experience:  Why Information Ethics?
If I look back into my academic career and what issues first captured my mind and finally lead me to see information ethics as an important part of my future, I'd point to two different experiences.  The first one chronologically happened in seminary around 1968.  I was taking the first and only formal ethics course I'd ever had and needed a term project.  For some reason I'd become interested in computers.  I sent a letter (by mail) to IBM and asked for some information and received an envelope with two or three booklets about the way computers would change the world.  I have no idea what I finally wrote about, but I do remember that the fears of the day were around automation and how computers would replace humans in the workplace.  The second influence is harder to describe because it less concrete and occurred over a period of years. In the sixties when I was in college and seminary (1963-1967; 1967-1970),  there was an intellectual ferment around religion and ethics.  A time when authority was being questioned, college students were reading about the death of God and an ethic guided by love not rules. Then there was "Make love, not war."  Several books circulated among college students.  There was Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher (1966) and The Death of God by Gabriel Vahanian (1961). In one of my religion courses, we were assigned The Secular City by Harvey Cox (1966) and my seminary classes were full of guys who came to seminary to escape the draft.  Vietnam was dividing families, and Woodstock was over by the time I graduated.  Universities were reeling with challenges that set the stage for many of the questions and conflicts that continue to unsettle.  If we were to go back in history to World War II, we could follow the promises and perils of the war as well.  In particular, the uses and misuses of computers, 
the technologies of war, and medicine herald the themes of information ethics today.   

"Make love not war." (as early as 1966?)

Joseph Fletcher and Situation Ethics (1966)
Joseph Fletcher and Morals and Medicine (1954)
(Next Time)


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