There's a lot of talk now about cutting back humanities programs at the college level to better focus on STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and math) that will likely provide better job opportunities.
But given the nearly universal sense that things are going wrong and getting wronger, can we study technical capability anymore without reference to moral responsibility -- the issues that lie at the heart of literature, history, art, and philosophy.
Why do humans make and use tools if not to make us more human and humane? That is the question I'd like to discuss this Friday in our Live Chat at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m PT).
Increasingly it seems the digital revolution has been usurped by a powerful global elite who use the new tools to keep a fearful eye on everyone in the world -- including each other, it appears. To get a glimpse of the absurd reduction of this mindset -- of withdrawing into a techno-utopia whose citizens know the price of everything and the value of nothing -- consider this essay in Monday's Wall Street Journal by Farhad Manjoo: Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem. It's too proud, too self-centered, and that's not good for anyone. This is in the newspaper that never met a billionaire it didn't respect.
Technology -- high, low, or in the middle -- has to be about more than the ability to do something, with no reference to the rightness or wrongness of the doing. Education has to be about more than the study of what can be weighed and measured, to include things unseen, like kindness, integrity, and decency. Economics, the dismal science, uses terms with moral impact: goods and services. Even Western medicine is finally coming around to recognizing a body-mind-spirit connection.
In the tech community we have product roadmaps that look out two to three years. Isn't it time to consider social roadmaps as well, ones that can take a broader view by studying history to see how we got here, and literature and philosophy to consider where we are going from here?
Why do we do technology anymore? Seriously. What purpose does all this furious activity and ferocious velocity accomplish? Are we any happier for it? Is society any more just, fair, or civil? Certainly, some few become multi-billionaires after five years work, yet their wealth is measured largely by their ability to tap the secrets of our lives and sell them to the highest bidder.
All technology is based on leverage -- that is using devices to magnify our limited human abilities. The history of technology is a progressing from tools that leveraged our muscles (wheels, pulleys, and inclined planes), to tools that leveraged our senses (telescopes, microscopes, and radio), to tools that leverage our brains. It's time to develop and implement a portfolio of tools that leverage our minds and spirits -- the unquantifiable but undeniable parts of ourselves that yearn for connection, compassion, and composure.
It's time to include terms like service and common good in technical literature. Please be sure to join me this Friday at 1:00 p.m. ET (10:00 a.m PT) to continue this discussion in our Live Chat.
Tom Mahon's e-book on this subject, Reconnecting.calm: Finding Common Ground for Science, Technology and Wisdom, is available at Kindle, Nook, and Google Play.