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  •                                 NETFUTURE
    
                       Technology and Human Responsibility
    
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    Issue #46      Copyright 1997 Bridge Communications         April 18, 1997
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                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
    
                         On the Web: http://netfuture.org
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    
    CONTENTS:
    *** Quotes and Provocations
          Sue the Bastards
          Censorship, Kids, and the ACLU
          How Computers Can Help You Win Over Your Senator
          More on Technological Aimlessness
    *** Child, Teacher, World: Three Elements of Education (Stephen L. Talbott)
          How to meet a snake
    *** About this newsletter
    

    *** Quotes and Provocations

    Sue the Bastards

    Should software vendors be allowed to issue "shrink-wrap licenses" that disavow responsibility for product failures once you've opened the package? Consumer groups say "no" -- why should software companies be exempt from the usual responsibilities of product manufactures? Software companies, on the other hand, say "all software is imperfect" and there's just no way to escape the fact.

    The companies are right, of course. Liability might kill off much of the software business. But, then, that's a rather interesting fact that needs reckoning with. In what other businesses do we say, "It's impossible to build this product or provide this service reliably, so let's relieve the vendor of responsibility"?

    There probably are some useful comparisons with other businesses. But my point at the moment is simply that this disclaimer suggests an obvious conclusion: society's dependencies upon the software industry ought to be cautiously entered into. That is, you'd think we would accept such dependencies at first only in an experimental sort of way, with our eyes wide open. But, instead, billions of dollars are thrown at the nation's schools so they can get wired, companies continue buying computer equipment at manic rates (see "Still Looking for the Productive Computer" in NF #45), and a public bracing for the year 2000 problem has to wonder rather helplessly what further surprises the computer industry has up its sleeves.

    Actually, the simplest way to drive some sanity into the high-tech industry would probably be for government to say (in appropriate legal terms), "Sure, go ahead and sue the bastards." That's not about to happen -- not, at least, in any full sense. But a word of warning to software companies: remember the tobacco industry. There's a long road ahead, and a lot of opportunity for mindsets to change. Like, maybe around the year 2000.

    Censorship, Kids, and the ACLU

    The head of CompuServe in Germany is being charged by Bavarian prosecutors with disseminating pornography through Internet newsgroups. CompuServe blocks access to some, but not all, sexually explicit material, and provides parents with