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My Commodore 64

The View from Here

Sitting in my office is a Commodore 64.

For those of you who have forgotten or never knew, a Commodore 64 is a 64K computer that was sold way back in the PC dark ages of the early 1980s. According to a panel on the back of my C-64 monitor, it was manufactured in April 1983 somewhere in Japan. The keyboard and CPU are stamped “Made in U.S.A.” All of it, including the ol’ 5 1/4-inch disk drive and floppy disks, still works.

My parents bought the system for me sometime in junior high. It was just like the ones in the computer lab at Starkville Academy, which at the time, was pretty high tech. Now, the average remote control has more processing power. Ah, the pace of technological development. Instant obsolescence — but again, the old Commodore is still computing away. These days, I fire it up for an occasional game of “Dig Dug” or “Pac-Man.”

You hardcore geeks might remember what that looks like:


Then hit return and listen to the drive grind and shimmy. After a good long while, you get your game. I’d like to play “Castle Wolfenstein,” which (along with reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes”) introduced me to the basics of German, but I just don’t have that much time to wait (and waste) for it to boot up.

Nostalgia sweeps over me when I’m playing these old videogames. They’re primitive compared to the entertainment software we enjoy today, but I love them anyway — even with the jerky action, crude graphics and plinky sound effects. They’re still fun, distracting and engaging.

As good a time as I have playing with my old Commodore 64, there’s also a part of it that troubles me. A confession: Yes, I admit it, some of those great games are bootlegs. Illegal copies. Unlicensed.

I can’t recall where my copy of the pirated Atarisoft disk came from but there were dozens of them floating around that computer lab. It wouldn’t surprise me if one was still buried deep in a locker somewhere. Of course, I doubt if any SA student who stumbled across it today would have any idea what the heck a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk is.

“Floppy disk.” Man, that just sounds old.

Unfortunately, the old problem of illegally copied software is a problem that’s still with us. It costs companies billions of dollars every year, and despite advances in protecting software, the piracy continues— in offices around the world and around Mississippi.

Most of us probably know folks who are running bootleg copies of operating systems, business applications, and oh, so many videogames.

Say what you will about the price of software, the lack of customer support or the arrogance of certain software providers, the bottom line is that stealing software is wrong. It was wrong for me and my friends to make copies of our favorite games in the 1980s, and it’s not right to use unlicensed software at home or work now. It’s disturbingly unethical when companies provide employees with illegal software and expect them to go along with it.

A recent study from the Society of Financial Service Professionals took a look at ethics and technology in the workplace. The findings?

According to the society’s 2001 Technology & Ethics Survey, “…technology is an enabling and liberating addition to the workplace on one hand, but it is also the source of a growing bundle of ethical contradictions on the other. And with the future advancement of technology, especially as use of the Internet becomes more prominent, these contradictions are only expected to worsen before they get better. The survey also found that the values and attitudes that form the employees’ sense of ethics are not always powerful enough to direct their behavior, especially when it comes to the use and abuse of information technology…”

The top problems reported were personal Web surfing or shopping at work; using company e-mail for personal reasons; and playing computer games during work hours. Few of the respondents considered the Web surfing or shopping and the personal e-mail to be unethical behavior, but “virtually no one considers these behaviors as ethical either.”

Gotta love those gray areas.

So, what is unethical use of technology at work? According to this survey:

– sabotaging systems or data of a former employee;

– sharing company information with outsiders;

– visiting pornographic Web sites on the job;

– exchanging vulgar or offensive e-mail messages;

– accessing private computer files without permission.

The study also found that the most likely abusers of technology are under-35 males in middle-market companies, and that: “The ethical challenges related to technology will most likely be felt in industries replacing older workers with a cohort of college-educated, technology-savvy workers who are comfortable with sending vulgar or offensive e-mail messages, copying the company’s software for personal use or using the company’s technology resources to search for new jobs.”

Yikes. That hits painfully close to home for me and my college-educated, tech-savvy cohorts. It’s just like junior high all over again.

Stepping down from my soap box, I think I’ll fire up the Commodore, ignore my own advice and load something that will come, more than likely, from a disk of ill-gotten games.

I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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