Editor's Note: Ethics And The No-Fear Generation - InformationWeek

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3/15/2002
02:53 PM
Stephanie Stahl
Stephanie Stahl
Commentary
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Editor's Note: Ethics And The No-Fear Generation

Our story last week on teens, technology, and ethics stimulated quite a response. We've heard from teens, parents, teachers, ethics experts, and others who've helped open our eyes to the issue--however complex--even more.

There are those who wonder if we can really blame kids for paying little attention to ethics. "Given the examples set by media, both on and off the screen, our politicians (not just Clinton), our churches (the recent wrist slapping of long-abusing priests), sports figures, business (Enron and Andersen), etc., what do we expect from teens looking for examples?" asks Al Rowland of Carson City, Calif.

There are those who take issue with teens' claims that the older generation is clueless. Says Curtis Provance of Scottsdale, Ariz., "I take exception to Bobby Wolter's comment, 'If they'd grown up with the same technology we have now, they wouldn't be imposing their rules on us.' Who does he think invented the technology with which he grew up? Does he really think that the folks who invented the MP3 format and other 'conveniences' didn't think about the possibility of pirating?"

But my favorite discussion was with a consultant in Maryland who found her work was used by a group of students several months after she originally presented it to a different class at the school. Here's the twist: The presentation was about a successful knowledge-management case study. Of course, the philosophy behind knowledge management is that sharing ideas, data, best practices, and insight is what makes organizations more efficient, nimble, and successful. Such behavior is rewarded and admired, says the consultant. But none of that means you can take someone's ideas and claim them as your own. The student's response? "The presentation was found on the Internet, so it was fair game." The presentation, in fact, wasn't on the Internet, but even if it was, should it be freely copied with no fear or concern of plagiarism? Heck no!

The whole discussion has convinced me that ethics classes should be part of the curriculum in high school. One parent says the topic is, in fact, discussed in her son's Web design class. A former teacher says he used to ask his students to write "I will not cheat. I will not lie. I will not steal." on their weekly exams. He hoped to burn the slogan in their minds.

I still firmly believe that companies need to pay attention to teens' ideas and how they use technology; they may need to adjust their business models to accommodate new ways of thinking. But that teacher's slogan is one we can all live by.


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