Cat’s Cradle – IDEAS discussion

In discussing Cat’s Cradle, a novel by Kurt Vonnegut written in 1963, we discussed the dependence and religious-like way that some view and interact with technology. The same issues that Vonnegut brings up in his novel are ones that are still very relevant today. Our lives have reached a point where we are dependent on technology, but do not yet understand it. Is this an issue, and should we be concerned as this trend continues? Technological developments accelerate very quickly—should this be slowed?

Students expressed the thought that the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier, but that sometimes it just makes them more complicated. How do we view technology? The extremes range from technophobia to addiction, and neither is really healthy. There is a benefit in finding the balance between the two.

As students who will be working with technology and helping to create it in the future, it is important to understand the societal effects technology has.


Lusi- Result of Corporate Negligence?

In discussing “A Civil Action” in the First-Year IDEAS seminar, we talked about the result of corporate carelessness on human life and their responsibility they have from the place of power that they are in. The case in the movie was on water cleanliness in Woburn, Massachusetts. This article “9 Years of Muck, Mud and Debate in Java” by Rachel Newer at the New York Times discusses a similar debate in eastern Java where a mud volcano has been spewing for nine years due to an eruption with an unknown cause. There has been debate and study over this through the years, trying to find out if the cause was due to an earthquake or a company’s carelessness while drilling for natural gas.lusi_volcano

Twenty lives were lost due to the eruption, and multiple complications have arisen since that time. “This almost certainly could have been prevented if proper safety procedures had been taken,” says Dr. Tingay, an earth scientist from the University of Adelaide who is a lead author of the paper on the recent data on Lusi that supports the hypothesis that the event occurred through the fault of the company. The workers and scientists responsible for the technology in use are also responsible for the effects of this technology, especially when something like this catastrophe is possible. Instead of covering up the mistakes that they made, the company could have exercised more caution and been sure that no negative effects would come from their negligence. This is especially pressing when human lives are at risk, and when the results of this will carry on for many years after.

Role of Technology

Restaurant of the Future? Service With an Impersonal Touch — Article Link

Eatsa, an almost fully automated restaurant in San Francisco. Photo from the New York Times article "Restaurant of the Future? Service With an Impersonal Touch".
Eatsa, an almost fully automated restaurant in San Francisco. Photo from the New York Times article “Restaurant of the Future? Service With an Impersonal Touch”.

“For optimists, it’s a way to make restaurant-going more efficient and less expensive. For pessimists, it’s the latest example of how machines are stealing people’s jobs. Either way, it’s like heaven for misanthropes, or those who are in too much of a hurry to chat with a server.”

The first-year IDEAS seminar has had three sessions so far, and already a range of issues have been discussed. A big idea that the group is struggling with is defining and evaluating the role that technology plays in our lives. In the New York Times, there is an article “Restaurant of the Future? Service With an Impersonal Touch” by Claire Cain Miller on a new restaurant in San Francisco called “Eatsa” that is almost fully automated, where “no signs of human involvement are visible” (link posted above). The goal is to have a faster and more efficient fast-food experience, but in choosing efficiency we cut out the humanity aspect. The role of technology, some say, is to make our lives easier. Is this new system taking away from or adding to our life as humans? As this technology grows, and if it becomes increasingly popular, more and more systems could begin to operate in this fashion. Is this how ‘progress’ is defined? It may only be one small restaurant right now, but it could easily grow into something much larger and affect every human’s life. If technology is a reflection on humanity, then what does this type of technology say about humans?

“I would call it different than a restaurant,” said David Friedberg, a software entrepreneur who founded Eatsa. “It’s more like a food delivery system.”

We discussed a redefinition of words in regards to “A Civil Action”, a movie watched and discussed in class about a legal case on water contamination in a small town in the Northeast. Are restaurants and innovations like this redefining what we think of as a restaurant, changing them from something that requires the most basic level of human interaction and cutting out even that from the experience? Technology can change the way that we view and interact with our world, and this path is redefining the way that the world and working world works, and it is debated whether this would be for better or worse.

Explorations Beyond Campus

Jessica Hicks '19 and Adam Finke '19 look at a piece of art Sept 04 2015 at Banana Factory. The Art, Architecture, and Design Club of Lehigh University brought students to a nearby art gallery to expose students to local artists.
Jessica Hicks ’19 and Adam Finke ’19 look at a piece of art Sept 04 2015 at Banana Factory. The Art, Architecture, and Design Club of Lehigh University brought students to a nearby art gallery to expose students to local artists.

Hello, my name is Casey Urban, and I am a first year student in the IDEAS program at Lehigh University this fall, and will be making frequent blog posts about my experience. For my major I will likely be integrating chemical or biological engineering and something in the natural sciences arena, yet that is all subject to change. The benefit of being in this program is that the options for integration are endless, so thankfully no one expects an IDEAS student to know for sure what they want to do just yet.

The club selection at Lehigh seem limitless and overwhelming—at the club fair students sign up for groups that catch their eye, and afterward students can decide the degree of involvement that they wish to have. One group that caught my interest was the Art, Architecture, and Design Club; in high school I had taken many art classes and for a while considered minoring in art in college (the option for which is still open of course). Keeping up with individual passions outside of the academic curriculum is encouraged, especially as an IDEAS student; with so wide a range of interests, and so many avenues available, it is important to not get stuck in one train of thought and activity.

The club hosts group art projects (fun things like painting and tie-dying), as well as takes trips to art museums, sculpture gardens, and other areas of artistic interest. There is a “First Friday” event on the first Friday of every month at the Banana Factory Arts Center in South Bethlehem (a short walk off campus), which is a free open house of the art galleries of local artists. Visitors are welcome to walk through the three story building at their leisure, and have the opportunity to meet the artists in person, stepping into their studios and discussing their passions with them firsthand. It is a nice opportunity to venture off campus with a group of people from Lehigh who enjoy similar things and to see a part of Bethlehem that might otherwise remain unknown. This was the trip taken on Friday September 4, and the students really enjoyed being able to take part in this outing. Each club at Lehigh offers many ways to get involved in and off campus, and serve as ways to make students feel like not only a part of the Lehigh community but of the Bethlehem one, as they simultaneously involve themselves in an area of life that they have an interest in.