Vol. XI, No. 3

Winter, 1999

Ethical Responsibilities?

To what extent do scholars have an ethical responsibility to use modern technology? To put that question in context, consider it in more concrete form. When did it become ethically necessary for excavators to use stratigraphic excavation techniques? Photography? Flotation? Carbon-14? Dendrochronology?

In the context of this Newsletter, or course, the question refers to the technology that is new today-computer technology, specifically databases, CAD, and GIS. Who should use these technologies today? When is it necessary to use these technologies, if ever? Should older scholars be expected to use computer technologies or "given a pass." Should younger scholars be held to a higher standard in this regard?

It is hard for users of the technology to speak on this issue without sounding holier-than-thou, as if trying to tell others how things must be done-their way. But it is appropriate to ask scholars to consider some questions. When must we begin to use the computer tools at our disposal? When must we demand that our students do so? How can we demand of our students what we may not be doing ourselves? Must we offer classes in computing to our students? Should we demand some minimum level of competence with computers? These are important questions, and, like most important questions, they do not have easy answers. They are made more difficult by the problems of understanding sophisticated computer applications and by the rapid pace of change in the computer world-not to mention the abysmal reliability record of the software all must depend upon, particularly the various versions of Windows that provide the quicksand upon which so much application softwear must rest. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that there is an ethical component here and then try to come to grips with it.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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