The Cost of Efficiency

Time for a little story,

Once upon a time, my sister and I were given some money to spend on some food. So of course, the question became, “Where do we go?” As soon as I heard there was a Red Robin in the area, I knew my destiny. So we drove twenty minutes off campus and parked in the signature Red Robin parking lot. When we got inside, a waitress took us to our seats, prompted us to order our drinks and then pointed to a  little contraption sitting on the table. This little black tablet was designed to take our orders without waiter assistance. We could order our food at the literal press of a button (Yes, I’m counting touch-screens as buttons for the sake of that phrase). Of course, we didn’t really like that, so we tried to call her back whenever we could. Finally, after finishing our meals we decided to get desert and we flagged our waitress down. After telling her what we wanted, she reached over, and plugged our order into that little machine.

Before I start pointing out why this bothers me, let me just acknowledge that this piece of technology isn’t a bad idea. To be fair, in a busy restaurant like Red Robin, to have a server available at all times just isn’t feasible. However, my concern stems from when people start opting to only interact with the machine. Look at grocery stores, those new self check-out machines are growing in popularity (to my knowledge) while cashier registers gather dust. What will people do when technology replaces them in the workplace? We are growing ever closer to this “tipping-point” and I don’t think people have realized it. I site the waitress using the very technology that makes her obsolete to support this obliviousness.

Now I’m not arguing to remove this technology. I personally like having the option to order without having to flag someone down. I also understand the practicality of this piece of technology. Yet, I find it hard to believe that both of these options will be able to coexist for long. What does this mean for my dream of being a cashier at my local grocery store? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. maxresdefault

 

Speaker Series on Ethics

Lehigh has had an Ethics Speakers Series for a little while now, and it is concluding this fall. One of the last people to speak was Dr. Ed Freeman from the University of Virginia, speaking of business and its reputation and place and future within society. He discussed the bad reputation that business has had, and explained how in actually it serves a greater positive influence within society. It has to power to do a lot of good, but also a lot of bad, and some companies are really trying to enhance the good.

He discussed future business leaders, and the goals and passions that they may have within their company.

Business was never an area that I was particularly interested in, partially for the reputation of it being competitive and sneaky, but also just because it was out of my interest. It allowed me a better view of business in society and of the positive power it may have, which is something everyone should know about. Whether you’re in the business school or not, his ideas and arguments are influential for anyone living in our capitalist and business driven society.

Hierarchy of Needs

It’s always interesting to see how your courses overlap even though they may seem unrelated, and even though I’ve only been here two semesters it happens all the time. Right now I am in a Psychology class, and of course the IDEAS seminar, and in the seminar we talked about an idea in psychology that I just heard about earlier that week in the class. It was on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the idea that there is a pyramid of needs that humans wish to fill, starting from the base level of food, shelter, water and working up to the peak of is self-actualization.Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

It was brought up that technology is being used as our companions and friends as an attempt to fill our hierarchy of needs, beyond the physiological base, in order to reach self-actualization. This was brought up as being an issue if people start to try and fill the levels of belonging and esteem before they meet their physiological needs. Also, people now aren’t looking to human friendships and interactions to fill those higher levels, but to technology, and does that pose an issue for the future of our social world?

In what ways should our needs be met, and should we make sure they are in the order that Maslow created?

The Heart of Darkness

My favorite novel throughout high school was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I was really able to understand and appreciate the ideas that Conrad wove into his novel on the story of the trip up the Congo river told by a man running the ship. The man was able to retell all that he had seen, heard, and witnessed during his time, and later in his life retold the story in order to try and make sense of it and to get the blame off of himself. I always found this struggle with morality and self- justification very fascinating, and have found that most things in life can be related to this novel.heart-of-darkness_joseph-conrad

This was evident yet again when in the IDEAS seminar we discussed Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. I thought of it right away when we started to have a vague discussion about “the edge”, on where people like to be and where people go. Would you rather be safely in the middle, or on the edge, where there is a danger of falling off? The edge is that “darkness” Conrad talks about, and getting close allows you witness evil things. What does that do to your person, your humanity? But is it better to be blind, never knowing what is really out there?

Taking chances and getting closer to the edge may allow you to differ from right or wrong, but it gets risky when you’re close to falling off, as Kurtz did in Heart of Darkness. He reached a point of no return, whereas Marlow stayed on the edge and was able to witness all that happened. Yet the guilt of what he had seen stuck with him throughout his life, and as engineers this is actually an important thing to consider.

How do we wish to affect humanity, how will we deal with being on the edge, and how will we make sure we don’t go too far?

“Most Likely to Succeed”

This documentary, named “Most Likely to Succeed”, was one that played a while ago at the middle school that is right off of Lehigh’s campus. Though one of the only students in a mass of parents, I was so happy that I went to see this film.

I’m not sure if this topic will ever relate to my degree, or if it could be tied in with engineering at all. But it matters to me not only because of the interesting changes our world is going through, but as a human and as a potential parent there is an obligation to do what is best for your children.

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The way high schools work today, and what I have found talking to people from different backgrounds here at Lehigh, was that most of these schools are teaching directly for the AP, SAT, or ACT tests, because that is what colleges want and look for. I happened to come from a very small high school in the country that did not care about our records, if you went to college, or how you did. They cared about your growth as a person and that leaving the school you were going on to did what you wanted to do, but because you put yourself there, not because your high school led you there.

Because of this I was able to explore things and go off curriculum in ways that students today are not able to, which is exactly what this documentary showed as being the thing students should be allowed to do. It fosters creativity and character that is what is actually needed to have a good job and do well in life. The problem is that students still want to be able to go to college and to look good on paper, and so they are hesitant  about this new way of education.

Once you’re in college, its not about studying for a standardized test, especially not in the IDEAS program. Its about so much more than that, which is what schools aren’t teaching us.

Exams: In Retrospect

As I recently mentioned the student body at Lehigh finds itself immersed in the exam process. We schedule are weeks (and work schedules) around the days we don’t have exams. This makes sense and is intuitive. You would not plan to do something on a day when you’re suffering from pre-exam pain and suffering.

I find myself thinking about the great feeling I had last semester when exams were finally over. Sure, I spent entire days rereading past lecture notes to study. However, in the end, when that moment finally hits you and you realize you are free; pure ecstasy. Strangely though this semester has been a bit rougher and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It hit me today. Like a brick.

Now this isn’t really a life-changing epiphany, and it also may be a bit obvious. That said, the difference between these two semesters is that in the current one, my exams are spread out. Initially, this might seem great. Cramming for two exams at once is like pulling teeth. Yet, my exam week has turned into three. For the past three weeks all I think about is the exam I had to study for that week. In this way, I’ve been stressed about exams for this entire time. Last semester I only had one week, and sure it was brutal; but it was quick. Note to future self: a week with three exams may hurt like the dickens, but freedom is just around the corner.

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*This unmodified picture is from:

https:// http://www.flickr.com/photos/opendemocracy/1482020719

In a Mirror Darkly

I recently became aware of a show called “Black Mirror” and decided to watch the first episode. To add some context, the show is designed to be a spiritual successor to the renowned “Twilight Zone” and reflects on the darker aspects of human society.

To my surprise, even though I was sick and exhausted at 11:30 p.m. I was powerfully drawn into the show. Without spoiling anything, it made me question things like: “What is the value of a human life?” and ” Why are people fascinated by some of the most grotesque situations?”

To expand on the first question, the show creates a situation that weighs the value of a browser-98386_1280
political career and livelihood with that of a human life. As much as I would love to believe
that the answer is simple, it’s difficult to fully understand the gravity of the situation without being in it. I think most people would like to think that the value of the life should win outright. However, with how closely-knit and judgmental our peer groups are today, sacrificing our social status has a significantly greater impact than just the damage to our pride. This is augmented in no small part by social media and our constant connectivity to one another.

To address my secondary question, I must first admit that perhaps my opinion is a bit subjective. Back when I was in high school I was talking to a few of my friends about the television phenomena known as “The Walking Dead,” perhaps you have heard of it. On a few occasions my friends seemed to express an interest in living in a post-apocalyptic world. Yet, almost immediately they seemed to add the disclaimer: “but I wouldn’t really want that,” or something to that extent. In part, the pilot to “Black Mirror” draws out the absurdity of this innate duality of human desires. On the one hand, we seek pleasure and happiness. Then again, in stark contrast we all love to see an R- rated action film in theaters. Without rambling too much more, my point here is to simply point out that we are very complex beings. Sometimes the best way to understand and better ourselves is to simply be aware of our internal motivations; whether they be right or wrong. As my current calculus three professor loves to say: “All understanding begins with admiration” (Yukich, 2016)(though I think he might have been quoting someone else).