One of the things I do when I am looking to "veg out" for a few minutes is read up on what's going on in "media", especially TV. It's a way to feel somewhat up-to-date without actually spending time watching the shows, so I don't feel so out-of-it when someone mentions a popular show.
Now that it's July and August, there is lots of coverage of upcoming, new shows. The various TV networks are announcing the Fall plans, with a big push for these shows. Depending how you count them, there will be 20 to 40 of these offerings (most won’t make it, but that's another story).
Looking over their plans, I see that most of these shows, especially the dramas, center on doctors, police, or lawyers (and adults who seem to have no job but are otherwise living well). Let me see. . . I don't see engineers at the center of any of these shows, and that old déjà vu feeling is rolling over me again. If there is an engineer in any of these, it's most likely as a peripheral character—such as someone the police go to once in a while for some expert insight—or as a mad bomber or crazy loner.
I used to be upset about this. After all, engineers (and scientist) play a very important role in making stuff that the doctors, police, and lawyers use and expect as part of their regular array of tools and resources. Those smart phones, networks, forensic instruments, and databases don't grow on trees, right?
But on that proverbial other hand, maybe it is just as well we're barely visible. While TV shows can serve to put the protagonists in a positive light, by showing the nature of the work they do and the challenges, all too often the writers fall back on tired clichés and meaningless stereotypes, since it's so much easier to do that. I suspect that any show that was engineering-centric would make engineers look like a bizarre subspecies of some sort.
My other concern is that in their zeal to make everything more dramatic, these writers would muck it up, anyway. Let's face it, there often isn’t a lot of visible drama in good, solid engineering, just hard work, attention to detail, some group meetings and discussion, the occasional "aha" moment as you find and fix a bug, all spiced by the pressure of deadlines, cost, and performance. Much of what makes engineering the special activity it is in the inner satisfaction, as captured by the title of Samuel Florman's book, "The Existential Pleasures of Engineering." TV-story compatible it is not, in most cases.
What do you think? Should we be upset that engineers are pretty much not the center of a modest number of TV shows? Or should we be happy? Or should we simply not care, and worry about other things? ♦