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What Happens When Volunteering Becomes A Trend?

The act of volunteering seems inherently good and beneficial, and it almost sounds paradoxical to question that it is so. How could spending time helping people in need not be a positive thing? This recent story from NPR by Carrie Kahn discusses the rising trend in volunteerism and addresses concerns that may be raised due to the influx of students and young adults seeking to volunteer.  The article mentions that many young people today appear to be more interested in service and bettering society than in leisure and luxury. It’s not necessarily the volunteering that is cause for concern, rather the reason for it. Volunteer organizations are worried that some people might be driven by a chance to build their own resumes than by a genuine concern for contributing to a certain cause. In addition to this, Kahn explains that there is worry that for-profit organizations will try to capitalize on the popularity of volunteering.  She quotes Theresa Higgs, who runs her own volunteer non-profit in Boston:

“What I think often gets lost is the host communities…Are they gaining? Are they winning? Or are they simply a means to an end to a student’s learning objective, to someone’s desire to have fun on vacation and learn something?”

The article suggests that being educated and informed about the group of people you are serving and their needs will lead to a more meaningful experience for both the volunteer and the population that he or she is helping. What are your thoughts the volunteerism trend? Have you heard about or participated in group trips where you questioned how much the group was actually contributing to the community and cause? This topic is especially relevant at DePauw since we have so many service related travel opportunities. Comment with your thoughts and any stories from personal volunteer experience that you’d like to share.

An Ancient and Modern Anxiety

It’s pretty commonplace nowadays to hear arguments either defending or condemning the integration of technology into our everyday lifestyle. Proponents of this integration often stress the convenience and connectedness that technology makes possible, while critics commonly claim that it can distract us and cause us to become cognitively lazy. We can easily apply these arguments to current innovations pertaining to the internet and smart phone apps, but they can be applied to any type of technology, anything that improved, maybe simplified, a previous method of accomplishing a certain task. In an article for The Partially Examined Life, Adam Arnold discusses the anxieties brought about by technological advancements. Arnold argues that, while technology has certainly improved our lives in countless ways, it can also cause our thinking to be clouded by the comfort of routine and convenience.  We might think this to be a strictly modern concern, but Arnold points out that this is not the case. It seems that Socrates was hip to this anxiety a couple thousand years ago. He was worried about the practice of writing things down, which caused one to be less reliant on her own memory and more so on her ability to be reminded by her writing. Arnold quotes the Phaedrus:

For this will provide forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through the neglect of memory, seeing that, through trust in writing, they recollect from outside with alien markings, not reminding themselves from inside, by themselves. You have therefore found a drug not for memory, but for reminding.

Of course it seems a bit strange to consider writing to be a technological advancement, but Socrates’ concern actually parallels some modern anxieties about how the internet affects memory. What are your thoughts on this ethical dilemma surrounding technology? Should we be worried about the potential for laziness, or should we embrace that technology can change the way we think and alter the course of human history? Who knows, maybe in a thousand more years people will think it’s weird that we thought that we were technologically innovative in 2014.

Should You Trust Health Apps on Your Phone?

This article raises interesting questions about mobile health apps. It asks us to consider whether we should trust them, and to consider whether they should be regulated by the FDA.

It’s interesting that both the side favoring regulation and the side arguing against regulation think that their position is the best path to innovation in the mobile health industry. Here’s what the article says about both sides.

Although a number of laws have been proposed in Congress that aim to change the FDA’s regulatory approaches, none have passed so far. One of the main arguments against expanding the FDA’s oversight is that too much regulation would stifle innovation in the mobile health industry.
But Cortez said that this common refrain is shortsighted. “If you let these apps proliferate without any real oversight or any real enforcement, I think you risk consumer confidence in these products becoming really low,” he said. “If the majority of apps don’t work, and make claims that aren’t substantiated, I think that will undermine the market in the long run.”

Check out the article, and tell us what you think.

Morning People Are Less Ethical At Night

And Night Owls are more likely to cheat in the morning. According to this recent study, people who are early risers tend to behave more unethically as the day goes on. By nightfall, they are much more likely to behave unethically than they are in the morning. Conversely, people who have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and consider themselves to be night owls seem to be better behaved in the evening hours.

These results shouldn’t be too surprising. Ethical behavior is, afterall, sometimes a matter of resisting temptations and the more tired you are, the weaker your will is likely to be.

Supposing this is true; what implications does it have for you? Are you a morning person? Do you think you should be extra-vigilant at night now? Does this study fit with your experience? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Paying YouTubers to Post Footage of Your Video Game

The internet is blurring the boundaries between paid sponsorship and product review, and this is most apparent in the world of video game reviews.

A recent article, over at Gamasutra discusses the an interesing ethical issue with video game YouTubers, people who record themselves playing video games while typically commenting on the gameplay. Is it ethical for video game development publishers to pay these YouTubers to record and post footage of them playing the video games the publishers have developed? Is it morally permissible for YouTubers to agree to these arrangements.

It turns out that 26% of these YouTubers with over 5,000 subscribers have accepted payment in exchange for posting footage of them playing a developer’s game.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Crying Brazilians and the Rationality of Team Loyalty

This week, the internet relished in the suffering of Brazilian soccer fans in the wake of the loss to Germany. Photos went viral all over social media, and they often led to the question: What is wrong with these people? Isn’t there something ridiculous about allowing yourself to be that emotionally invested in a sports team, especially when you don’t even play for the team?

Shawn Klein (AKA “The Sports Ethicist”) addresses that question and argues that it is permissible to be emotionally invested in a sports team.

Check it out, and let us know what you think? Even if Klein is right, it does seem that we ought to have some account as to why it is okay to get so wrapped up in the success of a team that we come to suffer pain at their loss. Sports fans (and I must confess that I am one of them) owe an account of the reasonableness of this kind of behavior.

A World Without Work?

This week Google founders made the shocking suggestion that we ought to move away from the 40 work week. As odd as their suggestion may sound, we ought to consider their two main points in favor of the suggestion. Their argument is simple. Obviously, people’s lives might be better if less of it were devoted to the daily grind. Combine that with the fact that they think we don’t need everyone to be working 40 hours a week because of our ability to automate tasks that once required human labor, and you get a reason to rethink the 40-hour work week.

Even if you think they’re wrong about that second claim, it’s not difficult to imagine that we may rapidly approach a time when it is clearly true that we don’t need everyone to be working a full-time job. Some predict that by the end of the 21st century an almost fully-automated economy would leave us with next to no human labor need in three key sectors, agriculture, manufacturing, and services.

There’s something idyllic about the thought of a world where everyone is more free to pursue projects that they are truly passionate about, and many speculate that great advances in civilization happen when more people have time to pursue what interests them. Major technological advances that reduce need for human labor are often followed by periods of exciting flourishing in art, music, and literature.

However, this is also the stuff that dystopian futures are made of. We should be on the look out for warning signs and start thinking creatively, now, about how how a post-work society should be structured. If there were a massive decrease in labor demand, we’d likely see massive unemployment. It would likely require a radical rethinking about how we structure our economy, and it’s easy to imagine there will be contention about what to do.

I can imagine that massive expansions of welfare (or some basic income guarantee) will be proposed and resisted by persons who mistakenly think that the unemployment rate is due largely to either a failing economy or a lazy workforce (or both).  We also might see incarceration increase as many have speculated that governments implicitly rely on incarceration as a way to mange labor surplus. We should be on guard, because a massive labor surplus caused by technological advance and the potential negative social consequences would be an economic problem that may not be easily remedied via some of our the traditional go-to strategies in times of economic crisis or unemployment. The solution won’t necessarily be to create more full-time jobs. The solution may end up being more radical, and it may require an overhaul, as the Google co-founders suggest, in the way we think about the 40-hour work week.