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.
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?
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.
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?
Navigating our global future Ted Talk
In the above Ted Talk Ian Goldin talks about many many things concerning globalization and about where our world is headed, but I would like to discuss one section where he talks about the great technologies that will be available in the future. There have already been great advances in genetic technology and modification. We are able to pick and choose traits, and someday soon we may be able to create the perfect human. If this is what we want, this “super future”, who is it available to? Only those who have the money and can afford it will be a part of this future, while the rest of the world is technologically left behind.
In the seminar we have discussed bringing technology into these countries, and what are responsibility is in that area. They might not want this technology, or have an interest in changing their ways. But then the rest of the world will grow at a much faster rate, and where will that leave them relatively? By giving them this technology and including them in our future, are we saving them or destroying them? By making this future for ourselves, are we saving us or destroying us? We have the ability and power to shape our future and possibly others’, we need to be cautious in the way that we build it.
We recently watched a movie in the first-year seminar called Manufactured Landscapes, showing the destruction of 13 historic cities in China in order to build the Three Gorges Dam. In my opinion the worst/most bothersome line in that film was “I’m not in charge of this”, which was a worker’s annoyed response when asked if the citizens cared about their homes being destroyed. In order to complete this great technological feat, the homes of a million people got destroyed and those people had to be relocated.
Was that worth it? What is the cost of progress?
And even if the feat should be completed just for engineering’s sake, shouldn’t the workers at least acknowledge or take into account the implications their actions have for the average person? People shouldn’t all have to be survivors of technology, and maybe this cost of progress should have been a discussion.
As aspiring engineers, these are the types of questions and subjects that we need to think about, as that could be us doing this to people. And for what? What kind of progress and impact do we wish to have as engineers, and how can we make sure that we understand our responsibility?
We recently had our first IDEAS semester of the new year, and it was good to come back! We revisited old issues and brought up new ones, and had a general discussion to bring us back to where we left off.
This semester, Professor Best noted that it would be “more of the same yet profoundly different”. Now as we have a semester’s worth of discussions behind us, we can start to try to find the fundamental questions we will carry with us as IDEAS majors, the ones we will default to. Each major has their own set of questions that they bring with them, and we will be finding ours.
He asked of us things that over break have been “bothering us”, and students mentioned a range of topics from Flint, Michigan to genetic discrimination to robotic power/superiority. All of these topics tie in to the issues we will be discussing throughout the semester and our time here, and yet they are events and issues that arose within the past few months. It just shows how relevant and important what we are discussing here truly is.
Dr. Francesca Grifo gave a lecture on ethics this past Monday as part of the annual P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science lecture. She is the Chief Scientific Integrity Official at the EPA and ensures that scientific integrity is being upheld, for the benefit of the scientist’s work and the American people’s health. She discussed the political policies and the efforts that they are making to change the way that things are run. It was great to hear someone “from the inside” discuss the new and developing policies toward science in politics.
This brings to light issues relating to the role of the government in dealing with the environment, and how they are responsive to the ideas and opinions of the people. It also brings up the question of who then is responsible for the health of the American people? We talked in the seminar about how scientists deal mainly with facts, and engineers deal more with judgment, and so are their ethical responsibilities different? What are the ethical responsibilities of the government? And as new issues arise and as the world around us changes, do we need to define a new ethical code? The issues that we deal with in the IDEAS seminar are ones that Dr. Grifo has to deal with everyday at her career.
Watching television is something now so common and an integral part of our lives that we don’t even notice its influence. It is a major factor of socialization and has been for quite some time. What do the shows and movies out now tell us about society today, and how does that affect the people growing up watching it?
It may seem strange that shows like The Walking Dead and How I Met Your Mother actually reflect something about society, but a closer look reveals that they do. Most shows are filled with allusions to the current times, which dates them. When you watch a show from the 90s or even early 2000s it is clear that it is an “old” one. These allusions create a feeling of connection and understanding to the present times, but also mean that in a decade or two these shows will have lost meaning to the new generations.
And then how are these shows affecting the attitudes of people? The most impressionable time is when we are children, and many kids now are watching these more “adult” shows. But does it also affect adults? It may model the way in which they perceive society and those people their age that they would feel more connected with.
This issue of television and its affect on society was brought up in another class but also relates to the IDEAS seminar—television is a technology that has become a seamless part of our life, but it is an older technology, so do we really understand or even recognize the impact it has on our lives?