Friday, April 11, 2014

Politics of Engineering 4/1/14

Whether they know it or not most creators are politicians, all be it not in the way most people imagine politicians. By the nature of their field gives them a larger influence than most in the direction of future cultural phenomenons and the way people view innovation. Engineers should be both more willing allowed to exercise this power as well as not be punished as much for speaking out against an innovation or idea that they feel could be harmful or dangerous.
It can be said that necessity is the mother of invention and that may be so, but Engineers are the father of invention. As they are the driving force behind the shaping of their creation and have significant if not total control of of at least some aspect of the design process. There have been many times in the past where if an engineer had spoken up about or thought of a possible design flaw then many disasters could've been averted. Such was the case with the original Ford Pinto which had a fatal flaw that caused it to catch fire and explode in low speed rear end collisions. This design flaw was known by the engineers testing the car, however nothing was done about it because there was no one in the company willing to stand up to Corporate and threaten to refuse to work or inform the media about the dangers of the Pinto in the design state the was produced during its first production run. While it is not the fault of the engineers that this design reached production in the United States there is much more that could have been done to prevent this design from reaching production. The Engineers working on the Product could have gone on strike to delay the car from being released until a solution to their explosive problem could be found, especially since skilled labor like engineering is much harder to bust with scabs due to the time it takes to train new engineers when there is suddenly a gluttony of need for them. While this would work it could prove extremely difficult to throw a strike when employees aren't being disenfranchised, which is why whistleblowing and alerting the media of the cars flaw would have become known to the public and Ford would have been forced to change the car or face a public unwilling to buy their cars. However the way that Ford and its engineers reacted to the Pintos flaws was one of the earliest large scale examples of how large companies corporate culture had changed how it viewed customers to be no more than a line on a docket and not as people.
The digital age has brought on significant changes in the way people do just about everything, from communications to the way children play electronics have become embedded in our lives like television did in the 1950's. Mobile devices have embedded access to near infinite knowledge and distraction into our pockets and this has changed so many things about how we behave. In children and teenagers the structure of information availability on the internet has lead to reduced attention spans which may be able to be linked to attention deficit disorder, since the brain rapidly adapts to the things it is presented. In the business world these devices have created an atmosphere in which people feel like they must always be working just to stay with the pack and the feeling that in many industries the only way to stay ahead is with the use of chemical supplements. By speeding up society the internet has inadvertently created a culture which values work and near constant productivity over all else, which has lead to a reduction in leisure time in adults and attention spans in children and if these societal changes had been foreseen by the inventors of the internet who just wanted a faster way to exchange academic papers then we can only hope that they would have taken extra precaution to prevent the current abuse of the technology in its current state.
Engineers have a very large influence on the impact of what they create, however they often exercise very little of this influence or don't know how to properly estimate the impact of their inventions. If an engineer is to be true to their social responsibility, then they need to better use their ability to influence the impact of their creations in order for them to have the most positive impact possible.

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