What's changed in plagiarism?

Brad M. Griffin | Aug 2, 2010

Kids dont even know theyre doing it anymore.

Check out this NY Times article featuring the common practices of college students who dont get it when theyre caught because of the ways the digital age is redefining authorship and copyright.

This may or may not be surprising news. Its something along the lines of outrageous for the average college student to even consider not cheating.

But heres something else interesting. Anthropologist Susan D. Blum from Notre Dame is exploring what shes calling a shift in the way we view authorship and originality altogether, and even personhood. The Enlightenment-informed hyper-individualism with which were all so familiar (and which spurred the development of such Western standards as copyright law) may be losing strength. The Times quotes Blum as saying:

If you are not so worried about presenting yourself as absolutely unique, then its O.K. if you say other peoples words, its O.K. if you say things you dont believe, its O.K. if you write papers you couldnt care less about because they accomplish the task, which is turning something in and getting a grade. ((Trip Gabriel, Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age (NY Times online, August 1, 2010). ))

What do you think? Is originality in decline, is plain old cheating getting worse, or is a new mash-up normal emerging in which borrowing ideas and words from others is more acceptable? Whether all three of those questions are true or false may be less important than how we talk with kids about the issue. Ask a few teenagers what they think this week, and let us know what they say!

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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