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Areas of Impact

An overview of the different areas of impact we should be discussing in class.
A computer surrounded by 5 icons representing ethical, environmental, cultural, legal and privacy-based impacts

So far, you’ve learnt how to build frames for structuring conversations, and considered the impacts of social media. Let’s look through the areas of impact in a little more detail.

Ethical considerations

Recognising the difference between morals and ethics will help you in your classroom discussions in this area.

  • Morals are principles that guide individuals in deciding what is right and what is wrong. They are personal and vary between individuals.
  • Ethics are rules of conduct that are recognised to relate to a certain area of human behaviour or to a particular group or culture. They are systemic and come from external sources.

There is a side-by-side comparison here.

The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics

A cartoon of a computer screen with arms and legs attached. It has a bearded face, and is carrying two digital tablets with writing on them.

The Computer Ethics Institute conducts research to explore how technology and ethics interact. In 1992 they published The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics, which makes an excellent guide for evaluating the ethical impacts of a technology. These include “Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people” and “Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.”

Examples of ethical impacts of technology include: – The empowerment of one group at the expense of another – Any harm that comes as a result of a technology, whether physically or otherwise – Whether a technology restricts access for a group of people – Uneven access to computers based on region or demographic (the “digital divide”)

As the use of technology continues to spread, what are the ethical implications? How can we ensure equal access for everyone?

Environmental issues

Technology has a huge impact on the world around us. This includes the consumption of resources, the production of waste, and the associated effects on the natural world.

Increased communication across social networks allows us to share information about environmental issues. These platforms can inspire widespread change in thoughts and behaviours (e.g. The Attenborough Effect). Climate-monitoring technology also gathers valuable data about the impact the human race is having on our planet.

What about emergent problems such as hacking, data theft, and encryption?

Laws have been put in place to provide guidance to police and users; these laws are an area of impact that technology has influenced heavily.

  • The Data Protection Act 2018 governs who can access data, regulations on the validity of that data, the selling of data, and the removal of data
  • The Computer Misuse Act 1990 protects people from malicious computer users, and covers hacking, inappropriate access to data, and the hijacking of computer systems
  • The Copyright, Design, and Patents Act 1988 are laws that allow you to protect the things you create, and cover the licences you can apply to them
  • The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a set of laws introduced to prevent government secrecy

The laws I have listed here are specific to the UK, but similar legislation exists in other countries. You’ll learn more about what these laws cover in later steps.

Cultural aspects

The impact of technology on society influences communication, work, fashion trends, and many more aspects of our lives. Technology enables you to connect with people you share passions with. It can also foster hate, creating insular groups where extreme views can flourish.

“Culture” is difficult to define. Instead, consider the impact of technology on:

  • The art and manifestations of a people or society
  • The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a group of people or society

Cultural groups can include the population of your town, your work colleagues, or an entire nation. International groups may share ideals and ethics; examples are the viewers of a TV show, or the supporters of a football team.

Privacy concerns

Individual privacy is not a new issue, but the prevalence of technology makes it increasingly important. More and more of the details of our lives are stored in the technological domain, held by external parties such as cloud storage providers.

There are two aspects to consider when thinking about invasions of privacy in technology:

  1. The subject of the data, who may have their data exposed or stolen and is at risk of financial or social consequences
  2. The data holders, to whom an invasion of privacy can mean monetary and reputational losses

There will always be a need to balance functionality with privacy, and the benefits must outweigh any impact on the privacy of individuals.

Food for thought

How might you introduce these areas of impact to your students? What activities will get them thinking about the impact that technology is having in these areas?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Teach Computing Curriculum Resources

The Teach Computing Curriculum includes resources for teaching the following lesson related to this step:

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Impact of Technology: How To Lead Classroom Discussions

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