Consequences of Computing:
A Framework for Teaching
Importance of the Dimensions - Page 9 of 36
IMPORTANCE OF THE DIMENSIONS
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
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.