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Leading the technological "good life"

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Today’s students maneuver comfortably through the brave new world of technology. But do they have a clue how to live the “good life” in cyberspace? That’s the question Hackworth Fellow Christopher Foster ’08 began pondering while studying at Oxford University on an SCU honors scholarship.

And that’s the question the economics major nonjudgmentally frames to students on an informative Web site, Cydent: CyberStudents and the Virtual Good Life, that uses a multimedia format to help viewers evaluate the ethical “good” of new technologies.

“In a nutshell, it helps students think about the technology that they are quickly incorporating into their lives. I think there’s sort of a mob mentality when it comes to new technology,” Foster says. “As long as everyone is doing it and it’s a cool new technology, people jump on board without thinking about it.”

But it’s important to reflect on how values or rights like privacy might be jeopardized by using the new technology. He raises questions for people to consider such as: Is another person or group of people affected through use of this tool? Is it possible to be aware of the impact it has on other people? What place could and should this technology have in your life?

In other words, Foster asks, how does this gadget or software help you live an ethically sound life?

For example, the anonymity that the Internet often affords sometimes perpetuates a Wild West atmosphere of anything goes. “But just because you can do some pretty amazing things with certain technologies doesn’t mean your responsibility is vitiated in those contexts,” says David DeCosse, director of campus ethics programs, who assisted Foster with the project. “Relative anonymity creates different kinds of ethical possibilities and challenges in terms of how one shares about oneself, the degree to which one shares about oneself. What honesty means. What integrity means in that kind of context. Honesty and integrity are as important now as they ever were. That’s not in question. But how actually do you live out those virtues in an online world? That has some different challenges.”

Through video clips, links to other pertinent sites, and poignant questions sprinkled throughout, the Cydent site helps people explore those issues without being preachy or purporting to provide the “right” answer. The site includes sections on learning, relationships, consumption, entertainment, and being, as well as an ethical framework.

The new site has been rolled out to students via e-mail, a Facebook group, and old-fashioned word of mouth.

“I hope that it continues to evolve and be a platform for students at Santa Clara who have produced videos of an ethical nature or who find ethical videos that are kind of cool that raise tangential ethical questions,” Foster says.

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