Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 1. Introduction


Computers and the information systems and networks operated by computers and the internet have impacted human being in ways that are known and in others we have yet to realize.  There is a process enveloping the human community wherever computers are available and that is nearly in every community on earth where there is electricity.  Alfred North Whitehead once observed that about the most important aspect of the Twentieth Century was not so much that there were man significant changes that took place but that the rate of change itself had changed as it had accelerated.  In the Twenty First Century Whitehead's observation can be applied over again so that what humans may be witnessing is another increase in the rate of change that is producing a qualitative difference in the ways in which humans think of themselves and relate to one another and envision their future possibilities.

Computers and those mechanism and devices and institutions dependent upon them are transforming our social institutions and even our individual lives as they present us with options not present before the existence of such machinery.  An important part of what humans need to think about is in what ways these changes are significantly different from previous changes and the process of change familiar to humans. 

Technical changes and innovations present humans with increases in what is potentially available to them and possibilities for actions.  This is not new.  With computers the number and the extent of the changes in possibilities may be unprecedented in human history.  So many possibilities are being created that it is difficult for humans to fully appreciate them let alone choose from amongst those possibilities those options that most effectively present what humans value to the human community.

In and of themselves technical creations and technology is morally neutral.  They reflect a value that humans place on change and innovation and solutions to problems that favor economy and efficiency on several levels.  Creation itself is a value that generally advances civilization.  But creation is not sufficient for that advance.  Other values must also be operative.  In this century humans have need of being mindful that the creations of humans are not overwhelming the purposes for which they were created and the values upon which support for creation has rested.  The human community has need of its members reflecting on and deliberating about and considering technological creations before during and after using them.  

The task for humans is to further use and think about technology and the technologies related to computers in order for those technologies to assist the human community to realize what is valued.

Recent developments in the technologies related to computers have affected both the values held by humans and the ordering of the values held.   Freedom of speech has been challenged by the internet.  Privacy has been compromised by the technologies.  The value of possessions one has made is seriously challenged by people making copies of all manner of the creations and the property of others.

The present need includes attempting to understand the changes wrought y and being continually produced by computer technologies.  This continuing process of serious and critical reflection on what is happening with these technologies is requisite to any efforts to direct changes toward the service of that which we consider as being good, the realization of that which we value most.

This book is offered in service of that effort and in support of that process.


There was a time when there were no computers.  There was a time when there was no electricity.  Those living today in every part of the world where there is electricity are far removed from those times.  While we today can think of lamp light instead of electric light and horse drawn carts instead of automobiles yet at the same time most people of the electronic cultures can not imagine anyone in the past doing in any manner what computers and information systems utilizing computers and an ever rising and enormous number of devices using computer chip and computing processes enable people to do today!  

There is an expression that some people who are in the midst of a forest can not see it as a forest because there are so many trees in the way.  So too we are in an electronic, computerized forest and can not see it for what it is  because of the trees that are in our way. You might attempt to think about how pervasive electricity is in our environment and how much of what is around us and what we do involves computers in some form or other.  It is quite a task.  The street lights, traffic lights, vehicles, store lights, autos, trucks, buses, trains, planes, hospitals, schools, banks, courts, police, fire fighters, cash registers, etc.. etc.. etc...   We might pause to think about what life was once like 100 years or so ago as we now look into how computers have come along and how they are influencing us in so many ways.  We might pause to step out from amongst the trees to get a look at the forest.

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents