3.670 youth, computers, ethics (92)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 31 Oct 89 17:46:43 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 670. Tuesday, 31 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 31 Oct 89 14:55:36 EST (23 lines)
From: Simon Mielniczuk <SIMON@vm.utcs.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Young people and computers

(2) Date: Mon, 30 Oct 89 18:24:00 EST (48 lines)
Subject: re ethics by computer

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 89 14:55:36 EST
From: Simon Mielniczuk <SIMON@vm.utcs.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Young people and computers

Prior to working as Manager of Information and Computer Resources here
at the Faculty of Social Work, Univ. of Toronto, I established a
community computer centre as a cooperative venture of three schools and
the community centre I directed. It was operating three hours when I
realized that this technology had changed the rules for both teaching
and learning. Elementary school students were working cooperatively and
helping each other through various educational and game programs.

Supervision for the facilty consisted of five high school drop outs who were
beginning hackers. Over time, as various classes used the facility two
divergent approaches emerged. One group of traditional teachers tried to
control the learning while knowing little of the capabilities. The other
group were the teachers who just stood back and let the mix of eager
students, willing hackers, and shared enthusiasm take over.

You can imagine which approach produced the best results. When these kids
reach grad school (the centre opened 6 years ago) their teachers better
understand and use electronic information systems in relation to the
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------51----
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 89 18:24:00 EST
Subject: re ethics by computer

I never cease to be amazedat the naivete of the humanist, whose reflex
is always Luddite, a form of failure of nerve. Here we are all
conversing with pleasure and almost at random, and certainly off the top
of the egghead, via e-mail, and worrying about the power of the machine
over our ethics and sensibility. Of course the law is an ass, always;
and perforce a laggard, having to wait for the case to have the law
made. We cannot have laws be- fore we have needs. Even Leviticus was
not quite handed down, though it seems to us that way reading backwards
into the Book. Hesiod is already savoring nostalgia, since it was his
forebears who with iron and the sword and shield terrorized the coasts
of Egypt, those roving pirates who so disrupted the ancient world's
commerce. I do not think we can influence the use of this technology.
What we can do is teach and teach well the Humanist concerns, so that
the users, efficiency-dedicated and helpless in the networks of commerce
and power, will have some twinges and compunctions about life, not these
quick typing gadgets that avodid the deficencies of the Canadian post
office, say.... Who will surrender our human values in the name of
efficiency? The Judge is very softheaded, I would say in his anxiety.
Of course the barbarians will use it faster than the humanists! Was it
not Mao who exclaimed Hai! Hai, or Ho! ho! of Hao Hoao! on seeing the
first bank of color tvs at Nippon trade show in Beijing? He saw
promptly that it was his face and book that would preempt everyone's
attention in the one tv per village communal hall. And so it goes, as
that mushmouth vonnegut likes to say too. Killing is what we are about,
as a species, killing and lying and efficiency at both. Meanwhile, the
good teacher wont be worried about the computer's technology: he will
worry about good English or whatever grammar he is using and clear
thought. I must say that I have failed, after several attempts at the
highest levels to get the UCLA Logoff changed from "Sign off of the
computer" to Sign off from the computer. I am offended by the barbarism
of the multimillion dollar machine we have here and the inability of the
Office of Academic computing to get that little screen sign changed
after a year of trying. We humanists are facing not the computer, but
the arrogant little acolytes who put the screens up for us. and the
wimpy chancellors who allow it to be an affront, though one complains.
So, my message is simply: not the machine, not the iron that allowed
utensils and tipped plows to be made too, but the other humans. The
point is: the technology is never the culprit. We are, collectively and
individually, of course. I am always slightly amused by the cry, like
the judge's, The sky is falling! Of course it is. It fell on Noah's
peers too. We dont need to choose about computers: we need to study and
think and write well, as always. The computer will only make for
extended flabby hasty prose, like this note of response. Back to stylus
and wax? Hardly. Yours cordially, Jascha Kessler.