Single Stories

I was at a talk last night given by iO Tillett Wright, she has a popular TED talk (that I have not seen) but she spoke on gender equality. She used this extended metaphor about circles, and she quoted Chimamanda Adichie from another TED talk. The one by Adichie is one that I had seen in high school, and it was cool to see this connection. They both discussed the problem of a single story, and how in doing so you rob someone of his or her dignity and right to his or her own story.

Its amazing how the same TED talk came up in these two very different contexts, but still worked very well in these situations. This just speaks to the generality of some ideas, and how there are many different ways to look at people and stories.

That’s what iO’s whole talk was about, expanding your own world and what you’re used to by getting comfortable around people who are not exactly like you, and in doing so making the world a more accepting place to live in.

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The Tipping-Point

creativity-819371_960_720In one of my recent blogs I used the phrase “Tipping-Point” to describe the moment when the division of labor between humans and machines reached a critical point. When I wrote this I was thinking when there was an even 50-50 between people and machines. Yet, I’ve recently been thinking that maybe it doesn’t even have to reach that point to become irrevocable. In many cases, simply by creating a technology the harm is already done. Technology is a fine example of the idea behind Pandora’s box. Once a certain technology is “let-out” there is no going back. And perhaps this is the actual “tipping-point” that I’ve been trying to identify.

This brings up the question that Professor Best loves to ask. “Will we know we’ve gone too far, before we’ve gone too far?” (or something to that effect, the exact words escape me). The problem is, every time we invent something, there is a risk that it may be one step passed what we can manage, and we can’t seem resist temptation. So as an engineer what do we do? Do we stop inventing? To site Best once again in regards to the Brooklyn bridge, “the Brooklyn bridge was not built to cross the East river, rather simply because it had to be built.” I think this encapsulates part of the essence of humanity. We have a drive to invent, to achieve, and to understand. In this way, we struggle to resist these core desires. So if we deny ourselves invention, are we not denying an integral part of our humanity? Yet, if we keep inventing without reserve, are we setting ourselves on a collision course with our extinction?

As soon as I figure out this problem, I’ll let you all know. Right now though, I’ll just focus on passing my finals.

 

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.

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?

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).

Social Studies

No. Starting things off, this is not a blog about middle school geography. This is a discussion (albeit one-sided) of how we define what it means to be social.

Last time on IDEAS Seminar, our young hero (me) mentioned that in this day and age he felt that we were becoming less social as a people. To me, it seems that through technology we’ve grown more distant from one another and our social skills as a whole are on the decline. Rather than going to talk to someone face to face, mano a mano, we can just call someone on the phone… but who am I kidding? No one actually calls anyone anymore, now we just text each other back and forth maniacally. How much information can you really gather from a series of acronyms followed by an emoji? I mean really? To me, social relationships are cultivated when in physical contact and texting/ social media is just a method to arrange these “get-togethers”.

Yet some would argue that what it means to be “social” is now changing. Some say that through our technological revolution, our definition of social is changing. Perhaps, in modern times, the most social thing you can do is to update your status on Facebook. Admittedly, texting may not be as informational as physical contact, yet the shear amount that most people participate in may make up for this. If you’re texting someone all day, in some ways you’ve been interacting with that person for hours on end. This is especially true of two people who are in a relationship. I dare you to try and take away either person’s phone. You will lose more than just a few limbs.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to say that we are becoming less social as a whole.But who really knows? All I know, is it’s time for your hero (me) to sign out for the day.

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*This unmodified picture is from: http://aha-soft-icons.deviantart.com/art/Social-LongShadow-Icons-481470144

Hate then Heal

Everyone on campus pretty much saw this week the “Hate” board that was on the Steps lawn, and it was great to see how many people were engaged. The point was to write something on the wall that had been said to you or that you had heard being said to someone else, and basically just fill up this wall with racist and sexist and other hurtful things that have actually been directed to someone. It was a chance to face the harshness of reality and see how shocking the magnitude of awful things that are said to others in our own community is.

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Photo by Malcolm Scobell

 

It opens the discussion up on inclusion and diversity and the impact of words on other people. Those words stick with you, they aren’t something that you’ll forget, and that’s the whole point of the wall.

Yesterday students joined together and tore this wall down, and replaced it with one that says “Heal”.

It’s great to be able to come back from so much Hate and hopefully respond with more positivity. The Heal wall isn’t complete yet, but its already so uplifting and positive and just the complete opposite of what was there before.

It makes you think about if every Hate term was replaced by a Heal one. What would our world look like instead?