Digital Sustainability lecture at Uni St. Gallen

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to discuss the concept of digital sustainability with a dedicated group of students attending a digital business ethics seminar ran by Dr. Thorsten Busch of the Institute for Business Ethics of the University of St. Gallen (ufka “HSG”). It was very interesting to discuss with an audience having a predominantly business background as I mostly teach at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH).

Not knowing the audience, I asked them a few questions to better understand their familiarity with some of the key terms needed to develop the concept of digital sustainability (short “digisus”. Here is what I learned:

  1. You can still not assume that people are familiar or can explain the term “open source software” (let alone “open data”, “open access”) ALTHOUGH all of them use it! In this case, 1/2 used Firefox and 2/3 used chromium as their main browser! (Okay, nobody ever used Linux.)
  2. Without these terms, I still need much more time to get to the point of making digital sustainability tangible for people. note to self: talk more to people outside the bubble.
  3. Despite #1, all for the students used an open source web browser, chromium or firefox — without knowing about it! If I would have had more time I would have pointed out and also challenged upon the importance to reflect WHY one chooses certain pieces of software or digital goods in general.
  4. I was not surprised that nobody was using Linux, but maybe we should encourage students more to contribute to Wikipedia. It would help them to understand better the “new world” of how software and other digital goods are produced out in the open.
  5. Finally, there is still a long way to go to make the idea of digital sustainability better known. For the long version of the lecture, it still seems useful to apply a step-by-step approach. By starting with familiar ground and introducing gradually less and less known key terms allows to bring everyone on the same page and enable a conversation that would not be possible without the intro work.
  6. Given the fact that the digital economy continues to grow in size and thus relevance, it is worth offering students of business administration (and law) the possibility to understand these new emerging mechanisms better – because they will need to understand them in their future work life. Either because they end up in one of these “open” startups and need to grasp their business model; or they need to fundamentally rethink the business model of the large, traditional multinational they end up working for. Why not start with business ethics?

Here is the raw data of my tiny survey at the beginning of the lecture.

Could you explain the following term …? “Yes”
Sustainability 90 %
Public Good 80 %
Open Source Software 30 %
Copyright vs. Patent 20%
Creative Commons 20 %
Wikipedia contributor 5 %
Public Domain 0
Open Access 0
Open Data 0
Linux user 0

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