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.

10 thoughts on “What is Business’s Responsibility to Society?”

  1. Your post addresses some very important issue. My mother raised 12 children alone and she was just simply determined that we would not watch a lot of TV. We could only watch 30 minutes a day and an hour of Little House on the Prairie weekly.

    My mother was also careful about who we hung out with and what we were reading. We could read just about anything, but it was indeed monitored. She also relied on the help of extended family and church members to help out.

    We did not have a lot of money so we were not looking for the hottest new anything. It was a great upbringing. We had our own sports teams and theater troupe, not to mention that there were always plenty kids from the neighborhood at our house. We could not very often visit theirs.

    Now, as an adult I must admit that I probably spend way to much time on the Internet, though I have remained a ferocious reader too.

    Judith Ellis’s last blog post..Being President-Elect of the United States III

  2. Judith,

    Maybe it was a blessing that our parents did not have a lot of money to spend on entertainment, and we had to turn to books instead. I still read a lot more than I watch TV.

    When raising our own kids, we always seemed to be too busy with sports and school activities to spend much time with TV or video games. Fortunately, we were able to impress on our kids how important books are, and they still read regularly.

    I’m sure we all spend too much time on the Internet, but it is such a source of information I can’t help myself. Just too curious I guess.

    Thanks for the comment. Please come back from time to time.


    Bob Foster’s last blog post..What is Business’s Responsibility to Society?

  3. Unfortunately Bob I think the Genie is already out of the bottle and there is no way to put it back in!! Having raised 3 kids of my own some 20+ years ago, I was constantly barraged with “I’m bored” when they were thrown outside to find a creative alternative to tearing up the house and beating on one another!

    We limited the amount of TV they watched and video games were just coming into their own (thankfully we didn’t have any money for them) but my point is that two generations ago, kids began needing to be entertained as a replacement for a vivid imagination. Is this a family values problem? School problem? I don’t know, it’s a rhetorical question. Problem is, these same kids are now grown adults and their hunger for more realistic and vivid video games has not subsided. This is fine if kept in balance much like any other recreational activity but I question whether or not it is causing more problems within our society rather than less.

    Anyway, it’s just my personal observation and opinion and we all know about opinions!


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