Consequences of Computing:
A Framework for Teaching

Importance of the Dimensions - Page 9 of 36


This section is a short explanation of the rows and columns of the charts used in Figures 1 and 2. Any in-depth analysis would require a chapter length treatment for each concept in each dimension. The purpose here is simply to indicate why each of the levels of analysis or ethical issues identified in the chart is important to an analysis of computer technology from the viewpoint of the computer professional.

We would like to be able to argue that the set of ethical issues and social analyses we provide here are a comprehensive taxonomy of the field: that it covers all the important issues, and that any issues will find a place within it and be illuminated by an analysis using the categories we propose. Clearly, we cannot claim this much for a new approach, and only extensive use will determine if the categories or conceptual scheme need to be revised. We can, however, make the claim that this is a reasonably comprehensive and quite useful categorization of the issues in their ethical, social, and technological aspects, and that it provides an organizing framework that has been rare in most approaches to the ethical and social issues in computing.

Levels of Social Analysis
A common approach in social analysis is first to determine the level of analysis required for a particular issue and then to apply the tools, literature, and methods appropriate to that level. This is not to suggest that there is a "privileged" level, since many issues must be analyzed at several levels in order to understand them. But it is to suggest that determining the appropriate levels of analysis will help in teaching social and ethical issues in computing. Some issues (e.g. privacy) will profit from analysis at all the levels we propose here. Others, (e.g. whistle blowing) may find some levels less immediately useful. However, we suspect that most issues can profit from a consideration of all the levels of analysis. For example, state and national laws have been considered that would protect whistle blowers, and in addition to individual differences in attitude toward safety risks, there may be cultural differences. Thus, applying a systematic social analysis to the issue of whistle blowing can keep us from thinking only in terms of the individual and professional responsibility of the potential whistle blower.

In this section, we provide a description of each level of analysis, some examples of a few issues that can be profitably analyzed at each level, and some suggestions about how the particular level interacts with the ethical issues represented by the columns in Figure 1.