Tag Archives: business responsibility

What is Business’s Responsibility to Society?

“Children born today, on average, won’t live as long as their parents. That’s the first time in our society that has ever been forecast.” These were the words of Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne in a speech to the attendees of the 2007 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, KY. He was referring to a recent report by the U. S. Surgeon General, which pointed out that illnesses due to physical inactivity—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity—are a growing crisis.

Kempthorne expressed special concern for our children’s loss of connection to nature. The secretary pointed out that technology is keeping our kids indoors and sitting on the couch playing virtual games instead of being outdoors playing real games. Their are too many kids (and adults) that need to put down their Blackberry’s and go picking wild berries.

I wonder…when a company develops a new time-consuming gadget—from cell phones to the latest game-player—do they ever give any thought or consideration as to what physical effect their new gadgets will have on the users, or society in general? Apparently not, according to Alan Cooper, a highly regarded development engineer in Silicon Valley. In Cooper’s book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”, he presents the premise that “…despite appearances, business executives are simply not the ones in control of the high-tech industry. It is the engineers who are running the show. In our rush to accept the many benefits of the silicon chip, we have abdicated our responsibilities. We have let the inmates run the asylum.”

As long as the engineers are developing “things” that sell well, the executives are happy—delighted, in fact. The possibility that these “things” are contributing to the potential breakdown of mankind—both socially and physically—is totally ignored, as long as the money keeps coming in.

Do you know what the highest grossing entertainment product in the world is? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest grossing entertainment product in the world grossed $310 million in 24 hours—it was a video game. I also just saw that the number one Christmas gift this year is…video games.

It is easy for all of us to say, “It’s the parent’s responsibility to oversee their children’s lifestyle and activity.” Yes, that is true, up to a point, but through aggressive advertising, PR events, and peer pressure, it’s not that simple. The cell phone companies are constantly adding new features to attract kids, video games are getting more realistic and exciting, Blackberrys are de rigueur to a younger and younger group, computers are now a necessity for most school kids—and then, of course, there is television.

Where does the responsibility of we business people enter into this picture? Shouldn’t we consider some of the real impact of our products on society while we are developing them—or not?

I would really like to hear the views of others.