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Author: Scott Miller

Soma: A Fictional Fix?

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, provides a grim depiction of a world completely dedicated to the concept of community and the “common good.” In Huxley’s world, the World State, individuals are created in test tubes and developed into certain groups with set physical and intellectual capabilities. These groups constitute a rigid caste system in which the highest levels of society are handsome and intelligent and the lower classes are increasingly less attractive and intelligent. Their society has been able to create a world in which there is no war or civil unrest of any sort. Instead babies are created in test tubes and are taught the same sets of morals and beliefs. This, in combination with heavy doses of soma (the state funded drug that pacifies civilians) allows them to maintain a subdued, uniform world. The concept of soma is one that stood out to me when looking for similarities between Huxley’s world and our current world. Soma is a drug used regularly by almost everyone in the World State that put’s one in a dreamlike escape from reality. The rampant over prescription of opiates, like Oxycodone, has provided beneficial results to millions of people suffering around the world, but it has had lethal effects on the American population, with 15,000 people a year dying from prescription painkillers (castlemedical.com). Due to the efforts by major pharmaceutical corporations and failure to impose proper legislation, far too many Americans are falling victim to opioid addiction, much like the citizens in Brave New World.

Rather than deal with the variety of issues and dangers posed by an uncontrolled population, the leaders of the World State, like Mustapha Mond, decided to subdue individuals by pumping them full of soma, rendering them pacified, lifeless lemmings with no ability or motivation to protest or rally. They seem to have discovered the key to avoiding the primary troubles that once plagued the planet. Culture is entirely focused on the community and doing whatever one can to further the prosperity of the collective group. This would not be possible without the influence of rampant soma usage. Whenever a protest does happen to break out, the police distribute soma among the protestors and all is brought back to normal.

I fear that our current society is moving in a similar direction. While our law enforcement officials are not spraying use with gaseous forms of Oxycodone, we are witnessing a rapidly spreading epidemic. The U.S. has failed it’s people by neglecting to regulate these highly addictive substances and allowing doctors to prescribe them indiscriminately. We are faced with a growing percentage of our population that is becoming increasingly dependent on a pharmaceutical narcotic that renders them useless drones, much like soma. I pray that our elected officials begin to take this issue seriously and take the necessary steps to create a realistic and effective solution. If not, we will undoubtedly witness a descent into a World State realm in which more and more citizens are prescribed a highly addictive drug that ruins lives and removes all sense of self purpose or value.

The Impact of Mechanizing Low-Skilled Labor

Title: The Impact of Mechanizing Low-Skilled Labor

Thesis: The automation of low-skilled labor will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency and profits, however it will trigger an immediate spike in unemployment and ultimately lead to a transformation of the US workforce.

Critical Question: What societal and economic ramifications could result from mechanizing low-skilled labor jobs? OR As technology increases, will humans become crowded out of the labor market?

Description: For my research topic I intend to look at potential effects of automating or mechanizing low-skilled labor positions. I am going to examine the effects that this shift would have on our nations economy as well as our society. Massive layoffs in industries like agriculture and restaurants could lead to the advent of entirely new positions and trades that we have not yet seen. This large percentage of the US labor force will inevitably land somewhere else and I am interested to learn where that will be. Advancements in technology and mechanization go hand in hand. I will study the history of mechanization and how it affected the economy in the past and use that knowledge to gauge what the future holds in store. This will allow me to determine the likely plans of recourse for the laborers recently crowded out of the market.

Outline:

  • Introduction: Introduce the issue of mechanization, describe what that actually means
  • BP 1: History of mechanization and it’s effects on the workplace
    • Assembly line + cars
    • Factories + machines
    • Robots
  • BP 2: Discuss the current threat of mechanization (industries expected to evolve)
    • arguments for it/reasons why it’s being discussed
  • BP 3: Arguments against
    • economic/societal consequences
    • how many people will lose jobs
  • BP 4: How will the workforce readapt
    • where will laborers work
    • what will they do for work
  • BP 5: Analysis –> Is this a good thing? Bad thing? Natural Process?
  • Conclusion: Summarize findings/impact include analysis

Bibliography: I will draw from sources such as the New York Times, studies conducted by UPENN Wharton, and other scholarly publications

  • http://budgetmodel.wharton.upenn.edu/issues/2017/8/8/the-raise-act-effect-on-economic-growth-and-jobs
  • http://www.nber.org/chapters/c5249.pdf
  • http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/22/3/388.full

The Educational Divide Between Science and Literature

C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures discusses the cultural divison between the field of science and the humanities. He begins with a historical assessment of the respective fields of study and their degree of influence throughout time. From there, he goes on to explain how science is the more applicable to our current society and that it will continue to gain prevalence in the future. As a liberal arts student I am predisposed to oppose this argument, however when I think about it honestly, I have to admit that the study of information, data, and analysis will proceed to play an increasingly relevant role in our daily lives.

I believe that in the coming decades, the fields of science and technology will continue to become a necessary element of our every day routines. The decline of hard-copy, handwritten material is a major indicator of this. With electronic substitutes for everything springing up everywhere we look, it is clear that a thorough understanding and acceptance of science is absolutely inevitable. Almost every position for current college graduates looking to enter the workforce requires a high level of comfort with a wide array of computer systems, data manipulation, and numerical analysis. I expect this trend to continue and accelerate along with the abundant increases in technology and science.

However, I do presume that while it is still quite a while down the road, the humanitarian studies will begin to adapt and become integrated with technological sciences. Areas like law, publishing, and literature in general will begin to become intertwined with new programs and systems and allow them to regain a prominent role in our society. Programs will arise in which certain logical and qualitative resources can be analyzed and produced. The advances in science and technology will allow certain decisions that were once determined by human logic, to be simulated by data analysts and scientists. Soon articles once crafted by humans to break news, stories, and provide outlook on current events will by synthesized by programs that are able to analyze the information and churn out literature for consumers.

This is not to say that the creative ability of humans will cease to remain relevant, I simply believe that in the near future many traditionally human crafts will be met by technological automation. Much like many fields have recently been forced to adapt and redefine their role in an era of internet and technology, the field of humanities will surely begin to do so. It is difficult to predict the way in which this pivot will result, but it is simply matter of time before the natural process of evolution causes this realm of intellect to remodel itself.

I fundamentally agree that a thorough understanding of literature and science is essential in order to develop a complete and well-rounded education. The current reign of technology in our generation may make it seem as though the former is becoming obsolete, but I expect that within our lifetime we will witness a return of liberal arts prominence.

The Rise of Women in Science & Technology

Aristotle’s claim that men are complete, perfect beings, while women are simply incomplete males is an inherently wrong claim that has regrettably permeated the field of science and technology to this very day. The recent scandals in Silicon Valley with companies like Uber and Google have highlighted this issue. Despite many companies today working hard to promote a message of inclusion, equal opportunity, and open mindedness, many of these companies are no different than the sexists of the past. I do believe that there are fundamental differences between men and women, but I can firmly state that these differences are limited to the physical attributes.

I am a male and I am absolutely horrible at math and science. Since elementary I have struggled with numbers, data, and analysis. However, I have always been strongly drawn towards the humanities, it is something that basically just clicked with me from an early age. In class on Wednesday we discussed how teachers in elementary school tend to push boys towards math and science subjects and for that reason men are typically stronger in those areas. That talk struck a chord with me. I can not begin to express how much I hate dealing with numbers. I have loved my time at Colby because for once in my life I have had the opportunity to pursue my true passion, politics. As a government major, I am taking classes that are genuinely interesting to me and applicable to my interests. I have also met women here who are so skilled and strong in mathematical subjects. I believe that the supposed male disposition to math and science is a complete fabrication. While the statistics may point to more men excelling in these fields may disagree with me, I am of the opinion that humans have the ability to determine their own interests and it is much more of a “nurture” factor than “nature”.

I contend that males are pressured into certain career paths due to the societal construct that men are expected to be the breadwinners in typical American households. Careers in finance, business, and technology are typically high paying and for that reason men are drawn to careers in those fields. This is an issue that I have struggled with while considering a career in the political realm, I have felt pressured to find a career that will allow me to provide a stable financial background for my family. As the role of women continues to evolve, I believe that this tragic construct will continue to diminish.

For the longest time women have been expected to run the “home”, care for children, and take jobs that allow them to play a major role at home. This is finally changing, women are now able to prioritize their careers and pursue careers in high-paying sectors. This development will certainly show that women are taking to new careers in the business and science industries and the male monopoly will begin to diminish. I could not be more excited by this development and I am excited by what the future holds for the role of women in the workplace.

The Dangerous Uncertainties of Technology

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a quintessential example of an experiment gone awry, an effort initiated with seemingly pure intentions but evolves into something with unintended and disastrous consequences. Frankenstein the monster becomes more than simply a reanimated “humanish” creature. His creation accidentally gave rise to issues of companionship, loneliness, and other human emotions that ultimately made him a true monster.

I believe that many of today’s modern marvels are riddled with similar unintended consequences. The primary example being the Amazon Echo. The daily news cycle is dominated with stories of Echo devices listening to their owners and then acting without any instruction. People with Echo devices find themselves receiving advertisements for products or services that they had only discussed in person with friends or family members. It seems as though the days of only having to worry about what one wrote or typed are long gone. The spoken word used to be the final frontier in terms of privacy, you could still speak your mind in private, but now the Amazon Echo is always listening, picking up on certain keywords, and creating customized advertisement strategies for you.

There is also the issue of the relationship between Echo data and the Intelligence authorities. Many people, myself included, view  them as conspiracy theories. However, if there is truly a connection between the two, then an invasion of privacy breach is certainly a real and present danger.

Customers who simply wanted a device that would record grocery lists and play music are suddenly facing unintended ramifications that they had no way of anticipating, much like Frankenstein’s monster. These people did not sign up for a product that listens to their every word, records and analyzes it. This is an area that I believe must be addressed by both private and public oversight entities.

Another example of technological overreach can be identified in the recording of search data on Google and Facebook. These tech giants have been recording the search data of individuals for years and have been able to compile advertisement and content preferences to suit each individual customer. This collection and manipulation of our personal preferences and information is changing the way that we shop and consume information. Lawmakers in Congress are finally beginning to investigate the ways in which Facebook and Google are handling our information, but I believe that this is just the “tip of the iceberg.” The Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is the most evident example of data manipulation. Facebook’s advertising platform allowed hackers to infiltrate the “newsfeeds” of American citizens and feed them falsified news that ultimately impacted the results of our executive election.

As technology advances and takes an increasingly more important role in our daily lives it is vitally important that we take a more cautious approach toward our work. Inventions that collect, track, and analyze our data are a novel and groundbreaking concept, capable of revolutionizing the way we live and work. However, if unmonitored and unsupervised, we risk sacrificing our sacred right to privacy.

The SciRev: What was Overthrown? Will it Last?

The Scientific Revolution was in principle a revolution or overthrow of Aristotelian cosmology. All of the previous conceptions of the sublunar realm and the heavens were upended and overturned. Innovations and realizations produced by the likes of Galileo Galilei, Nicolas Copernicus, Francis Bacon and others contributed to the process that would ultimately lead us to the current state of the scientific and technological field. These advancements are seen as permanent, accurate solutions and approaches to science, a more fact-based system than the Aristotelian system that came before it. However, that prior system lasted for hundreds of years, who is to say that this system will last forever?

The Aristotelian model viewed the sublunar realm as an area of generation and corruption, with four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. It viewed the realm of the heavens as a perfect and incorruptible arena that moved in a uniform circular motion. The practice of medicine was centered around examining the colors and consistencies of biles, blood and phlegm. These were concepts generally accepted and promoted by scientific, religious, and authoritative officials at this point in time. They had been established and “proven” through a general process. In this day and age of contemporary science and medicine, we view these ideas as arcane, outdated, and highly primitive. Who is to say that our current system of the scientific method and our observational processes won’t one day be viewed through a similar lens?

Steve Shapin in his work, Scientific Revolution,  argues that we must trust in science and rely on it as our most accurate source of knowledge. I believe that we ought to approach the very system that we currently employ with a healthy sense of skepticism. If we just blindly bind ourselves to the scientific method and other systems that we assume to be true, then how are we to be any more advanced than those who studied Aristotelian sciences? As a race it is our duty to improve and raise our level of consciousness and  understand that there is always much left to learn. It seems to me to be a dangerous assumption that we have simply “got it right this time”, that suddenly we have figured out the perfect approach to science. I have no doubt that in another hundred years, many of our current assumptions will be viewed as incorrect, if not simplistic. I beg our generation to take a careful approach.

The current debate over climate change is a perfect example. Despite substantial evidence for the case of change, there are many people in the United States and around the world who refuse to believe it. This summer during an internship in Washington, D.C. I was fortunate enough to meet with a member of the House of Representatives. During our meeting I was astounded to learn that he simply did not believe in global warming or climate change. This is the type of nativity that we need to avoid. WE must approach all assumptions with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The Longevity of Kranzberg’s Laws

Melvin Kranzberg, a prominent professor of technological history, penned his six laws of technology in 1995. Much has changed in the field of technology since then, many of his tenets remain applicable to this very day, while others have simply struggled to keep up with technological advancements.

Kranzberg’s First Law is “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” In my opinion, this law had remained true until very recently. With recent companies like Apple and Google coming under fire for intentionally crafting products and services to be addictive and create a user dependency of sorts. This development coupled with the working conditions of employees in Apple manufacturing plants in China, in which workers are treated horribly and not allowed to leave, makes them somewhat of an evil entity in my eyes. Additionally, the misogynistic culture of Silicon Valley is another issue of major concern and trouble. As the figurative cornucopia of technology, the sundry of sexual abuse and harassment cases to arise from that region are extremely unacceptable. I believe that the culture surrounding technology, not so much technology itself, has run a muck.

His Second Law, “Invention is the mother of necessity”, is one that I wholeheartedly believe to be true. As I mentioned in my first post, the moment that Apple introduced the iPhone, our generation was diverted down a course of no return. The phrase “There’s an app for that”, spurred a massive rush to develop apps that could do just about everything from banking to editing photos. However, without these apps, the iPhone and smart phones in general, would never have been as successful as they are. The invention of the iPhone required the invention of applications that would allow it to differentiate itself from the other popular mobile phones at that time.

The Third Law produced by Kranzberg states “Technology comes in packages, big and small”. This is still very true to this day. He makes reference to the invention of radar and how many people have laid claim to inventing it, and given that there are so many components and applications that go into it, they are not necessarily wrong. This is entirely accurate given the fact that technology is continually evolving and advancing, BlackBerry may have invented the smartphone, but Apple took it to a whole other level. It added to it and ultimately revolutionized it, so who is to say who actually invented it.

Kranzberg’s Fourth Law, “Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions”, is one that I believe to be outdated. The ongoing Congressional investigations into the extent of Russian hacking in the 2016 Presidential elections are a prime example of this. At the forefront of the debate is a conversation regarding Facebook’s platforms and profile verification systems. Russian hackers allegedly used fake Facebook profiles to promote false information and incite support for certain candidates, while denigrating others.

His Fifth Law states, “All is history is important, but the history of technology is more important.” This is a rather controversial take, but I do agree with it. The history of technology is without a doubt the most practical and relied upon history used today. The history of law and precedence is a close second, but everything that we create in this day and age is a response, spin-off, or solution to a technological creation produced in the past. First came the printing press, then the telephone, then the mobile phone, then came the internet and smart phones, and finally arrived at Bluetooth and Amazon Echo technologies. Everything builds off of the past and that is why it is so important.

The Sixth Law introduced by Kranzberg, “Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology”, is absolutely true to this day. The fact that we sit down each week in class and discuss the way technology is impacting society and our lives is concrete evidence of that. We are actively participating in this process. The illusion that robots will soon overrun the human race is not one that I will ever entertain, the human mind is absolutely essential to any technological advancement and we will always be able to manipulate it a direct manner.

Technology’s Impending Doom

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

The primary purpose of technology in today’s society is to solve the problems that plague us and find ways to simplify our lives. Seemingly every major industry in the United States economy is focused on enhancing accessibility, simplicity, and efficiency through technology. The rise of the iPhone and its plethora of applications seemed to accelerate this trend in my mind. The phrase “There’s an app for that” was promoted by Apple. It quickly caught on and actually became true. Seemingly overnight, apps for just about everything began popping up. From banking to cooking to travel to gaming, there is literally an app on your mobile phone that can do just about everything. There are now home security systems that allow one to turn locks, shut off lights, and set alarms systems all from an app on one’s phone.

There are some, like Frank Loyd Wright, who argue that this hyper-focus on simplicity through technology will eliminate human creativity and purpose. That this will ultimately drive us down a path of internet dependency and laziness. To a certain extent I agree with this sentiment. Humans are creatures of purpose, we exist to pursue our passions, inspirations and goals. If we as a species get to the point where we are unwilling or incapable of pursing our goals, then I believe that we are in a great deal of trouble. Some will make the case that we are already at this point, that our youth is completely dependent on technology and will become a generation that marks the beginning of the devolution of humankind. I would have to disagree both with this idea and with Frank Loyd Wright.

The world is changing. The internet is entirely responsible and there is no going back. Cryptocurrencies are beginning to catch on and more and more industries and businesses are conducting business electronically. You are now able to sign legal documents over the internet. You can pay your friends instantly via apps like Venmo and Wells Fargo. The way we conduct business and various other lines of work are changing, primarily in white collar industries. The 9-5 work day is almost a thing of the past. In high-paced, demanding white collar industries, you are expected to have your phone on your person at all times, always on call to “put out a fire” or respond to changes in global market prices. One could argue that humans are now challenging their brains at an unprecedented level, we are now constantly bombarded by an insatiable, incessant flow of information. While our generation may think and work differently from those of the past, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Human’s are constantly evolving and the recent advances facilitated by the internet and it’s accessories are allowing us to witness it at an advanced rate, the likes of which we have never before seen. I am excited by the development. While I don’t think internet dependency is necessarily a good thing, I believe it is an inevitable trend that is going to change the course of human nature in a permanent fashion.

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