The human cost of the information age: Values and ethics at stake
(This research paper work was designed to be submitted to the Department of Information Systems, the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences at the International Islamic University Malaysia for the Masters in Management Information System (MMIS) by March 2002. This was supposed to be an initial proposal but i never went ahead submitting it. Well, let us just say, "we plan, but God is the best Planner". Since I stopped working on the paper, I initially removed it from the site but replaced it later after being asked about it by a friend. Come to think of it, even if I don't continue working on the paper, I feel that my first attempt is not something that I can totally forget. Besides, the special personalities I wanted to dedicate this paper to remain and will always remain well treasured and dignified in my life)
With the advent of information technology are issues of great concern on the part of a human being, despite its uncountable merits. More and more people are involved in the collection, handling and dissemination of information much more now than the days of yore. The World Wide Web (WWW) has made this possible with concepts, seemingly facts and instructions for easy communication, interpretation and processing by human beings. Every now and then, new models of computers with improved features inhabit the earth, once again providing the human being with a network of easily accessible information! As Richard O. Mason puts it, Our society is truly an information society, our time an information age (Mason, 1986).
Talking about the World Wide Web, Richard J. Cox as much as he acknowledges that it has brought about opportunities for the creation and distribution of documents, he wonders whether textual documents can be preserved in the same manner as before, or older documents used in the same fashion, or have the same sense of sacred documents as prior to the advent of the Web (Cox, 1999). These, among others, are the underlining issues of the matter at hand. In words simpler to say, the paper is designed to look at the impact of information technology on human life. Is this the kind of society we have dreamt living? What lies yonder the information age? Has our doings made us slaves? At what cost is this advent of the information technology? What is happening to ethics and our values?
In the New Websters International Encyclopedia, ethics is defined as a branch of philosophy devoted to the consideration of the moral principles of human behavior and social organization (1996). This definition is here to stay so as to provide a direction for the paper. Values, for the purpose of this paper, will be considered as priorities essential for birthing and sustaining aspirations as a depiction for the desired future, such as putting the safety and health of human beings at the forefront than say, production or profits. Again, this attempt to define values is here as a roadmap for the discussion. Walter Truett Anderson says, Values are subjective. They vary from person to person. You will be able to understand and get along with other people better if you keep an open mind about the value judgments they make (Harper, 1990).
The questions brought forward are vital to the management Information System (MIS) community for it is a community at the forefront in the creation of the information society. When Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio, he believed his invention would be used primarily for point-to-point communication. It took low-cost receivers to spur the growth of a much larger market - the broadcast industry (World Executive digest, September 1997). This development is here to stay and its future is uncertain. With it are many new ethical concerns. Take the controversy surrounding the monitoring of a companys employees e-mails for instance. Of the readers of InformationWeek, 47 percent feel it is acceptable while 53 percent disagree (Turban et al., 2001). This paper will attempt to answer the above questions in light of values deemed at stake as a result of the information age.
We cannot deny the fact that our life in this age is largely influenced by technological advancements. A check on values and ethics will thus serve as a balance between the adoption of technology and life in this information age, which ultimately will help better prepare for the unforeseeable future. Talking about values and ethical issues cannot be regarded as a hindrance to technological advancement but rather as a means to avoiding falling into common pitfalls of the yore. This is like considering both the means and the ends equally placing sizeable importance on the means bringing about impressionable ends. Again, this is important for those in the MIS community as they are dealing with the planning for, development, management and use of information technology tools to help people perform all tasks related to information processing and management (Haag et al., 2000). The integration of values and ethics of people with information and information technology will thus prove paramount for the MIS community.
The primary sources for the will be books on IT. Journals and articles on ethical issues with regard to the advent of information technology will equally be used. Internet resources will extensively be used as well. I also plan to use questionnaires and an even word-of-mouth interview to see how this information age is changing peoples lives.
In this age of ours as at now, it certainly has become easy to collect, store and disseminate information in just a matter of seconds. It has become easy to communicate with people thousands of miles away. Businesses no longer require brick and mortar buildings. Technological breakthroughs in science and medicine are uncountable, and yet we wonder whether there is light at the end of the tunnel. The technology that is the creation of our own brains threatens the very nature upon which our being is founded. Our values are giving in to what we ourselves created. Our lives seem to be dictated by the technology we have buildup, and not vice versa. How do we justify the use of technology to come up with the "second me"? Is man becoming a slave to his own doings? Perhaps it is about time we took control of what our hands created and guarantee ourselves a healthy future, presumably. The question we need to ask ourselves is: is the future we are creating, the future we are willing to live by?