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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2007

Book Reviews

Information Technology Ethics: Cultural Perspectives

Rachel Bridgewater
Reference Coordinator
Washington State University Vancouver
Vancouver, Washington

Copyright 2007, Rachel Bridgewater. Used with permission.

Information Technology Ethics: Cultural Perspectives / Soraj Hongladarom & Charles Ess, Editors. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Reference, 2007. ISBN 1-59904-310-6. $165.00.
By now it is almost a given to say that information technology is developing and spreading rapidly and that more and more of the economy, both in the US and worldwide, is information-based. We also know that our world has become globalized; technologies developed in one country quickly spread around the world. As computers become central to our lives, much writing and thinking has been done about the ethical dimension of information technology. Themes such as privacy, intellectual property, and the digital divide have been studied for years but largely from a Western perspective. Non-Western intellectual traditions are largely absent from the literature and, according to the editors of Information Technology Ethics: Cultural Perspectives, cross-cultural perspectives (particularly "across East-West boundaries") are especially few. This fairly slim volume (222 pages) seeks to fill some of those holes. Chapters in this book explore non-Western perspectives on common themes in information technology ethics and also seek to identify and discuss themes that "exist solely or more prominently in non-Western cultures". The thoughtful introduction describes at length, and persuasively, the rationale for this intercultural perspective. The introduction also provides an excellent overview of the book -- describing both the contents and the organization.

The work is organized into two sections. The first section is entitled "Theoretical Concerns" and includes eight chapters examining important information ethics issues from a theoretical perspective. The topics are varied -- "Analysis and Justification of Privacy from a Buddhist Perspective" by Soraj Hongladarom (one of the editors), "The Moral Status of Information and Information Technologies: A Relational Theory of Moral Status" by Johnny Hartz Søraker are two of the chapters included in this section. The titles alone give a sense of the big picture, high level discourse contained in this section. The chapters in this section are not easy reading and can be quite daunting. The writing is academic and requires some understanding of both philosophy and information technology.

The final six chapters comprise section two: "Specific Viewpoints". With perspectives from Thailand, Africa, Turkey and the United States, the chapters in this section examine more concrete details and expand more fully upon the theoretical concerns raised in the first section. These more concrete chapters are a bit easier going for the non-philosopher but are every bit as erudite as the chapters dealing with theory.

Chapter authors hail from around the globe -- Thailand, Turkey, Norway, Namibia, Italy, United States, Austria, and the UK -- and are very well-credentialed. The editors are respected professors of philosophy and ethics; Hongladarom at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and Ess at Drury University in Missouri. Ess is also a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

My one major complaint about this book is its index. The index is inadequate to provide any meaningful access to the work. Many other thoughtful access points are included; it is a shame that the index isn't more robust. The Idea Group would be well-served by investing more in indexing; the lack of meaningful access at the concept level is troubling.

In light of the dual trends of globalization and the rapid spread of information technology, this book is timely and important. Any academic library supporting a curriculum that includes information or computer ethics should consider its purchase as it is unique in its intercultural approach. This book should also be considered to support a more general philosophy or ethics curriculum -- even one without a particular focus on information technology. Online access comes with purchase of the print version.

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