Week 12 | Ethics Versus Framed Value Systems

Digital technology is rapidly developing, and people are struggling to keep up with its rate of change and effect on society.  Katz and Rhodes have developed frames that define what levels people have adopted technology, but the authors are confusing ethics with value systems. The authors have failed to discuss the impact of digital communications in terms of what is ethical (good or bad), but instead discuss value systems in a range of frames that guide peoples’ behaviors (such as whether people adopt technology or not). Whether people adopt technology or not is not an ethical decision in itself. How people decide to use the technology deals with ethics.

Technology is not new. For instance, a fountain pen is technology, and it has been around for over a thousand years. Fountain pens replaced writing with quills. Fountain pens were replaced by typewriters, and typewriters were replaced by computers. A person cannot call a computer ethical or not ethical, just as they would not call a hammer ethical or unethical. Technology is not advancing itself. It is people behind it that are driving it. People who make a website may try to achieve certain results, like increase visitor traffic. A computer isn’t the means to this end, but the people behind it are.

The Katz and Rhodes article also misses the point of technology, which is to improve the quality life for humans. The introduction of digital technology has not changed ethics. Ethics is fundamentally the same. I agree with the authors that technology’s impact is greater than it was in the past (p. 231), but this does not necessarily change how we determine what is ethical. For example, if a student decides to cheat on an exam, is it any more or less ethical if the student cheats on the exam with a smartphone than with notes written on the palm of his hand? Both are ethically wrong. The only difference is one involves digital technology.




Posted on November 20, 2011, in Society, Workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Natalie,

    I couldn’t agree more. I thought I was missing something when I read the Katz amd Rhodes article. I didn’t see the connection to ethics at all.

  2. Natalie—

    I totally agree with your argument. The thing that annoys me is when people are afraid of technology. Technology is just like anything else in life—you need to understand it so it’s not so scary. I also thought Katz put too much emphasis with regards to ethics and technology. It seemed like Katz was reaching for an argument that I didn’t really see was there. You’re right when you say that ethics it fundamentally the same. You need to know what is right and what is wrong. That is never going to change. The funny thing is, the worst grade I ever got in college was in ethics.

  3. Hi Natalie – I like your example about cheating. Whether smartphone or Sharpie, wrong is wrong. I also agree with your point about human agency – it’s something I pointed out too. There is a human being behind every computer action. Although the digital brain with its binary code mirrors the human brain with its network of synapses, that doesn’t account for will or desire.

    It’s one of the reasons the autonomous frame totally didn’t work for me. I know there are people out there working on artificial intelligence that is very impressive. The ability for a computer to learn, and even be taught behavioral responses is pretty cool, but you still have the programmer behind it all, deciding what the machine should learn how to learn.

    Machines haven’t (as far as I know) been able to simulate an amygdala and the biochemical imperatives that juice us to survive. I’ve not heard of robots wet-wired for fight or flight. Nor have they synthesized hormones to compel other survival behaviors. Robots can now simulation expression of emotions (according to Turkle), but I haven’t heard of any robots starting any robot independence movements, falling in love (except Wall-E of course), or autonomously self replicating (having ro—babies, lol).

  4. Natalie, I think you make some very valid points about technology and ethical practices. I think you’re right in that technology cannot be ethical or unethical, it’s merely a medium in which the users may choose to act ethically or unethically.

    Like you said about the pen – it can be concluded in the same way that the pen cannot be unethical, but the means in which it’s used can be ethical or unethical.

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