Technology Rant Continued

A while back, I hit on why it’s not an awful thing that science and engineering jobs, etc, are getting moved offshore.

Surfing back through a couple of old links I’d saved, I found this Reason interview with Neal Stephenson, who has way to much of my mindshare for a living mortal. (and if the idea of a “Reason” interview doesn’t get you chuckling, please go read Snow Crash). In any case, part of it focuses on how abandoning the model of science and engineering driving the economy isn’t unprecedented –

If the emblematic figures of earlier eras were the pioneer with his Kentucky rifle, or the Gilded Age plutocrat, then for the era from, say, 1940 to 2000 it was the engineer, the geek, the scientist. It’s no coincidence that this era is also when science fiction has flourished, and in which the whole idea of the Future became current. After all, if you’re living in a technocratic society, it seems perfectly reasonable to try to predict the future by extrapolating trends in science and engineering.

It is quite obvious to me that the U.S. is turning away from all of this. It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don’t belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture.

The common theme is that control shifts over to the next group once a challenge is conquered. The pioneers figured out how to move from the post-iron age to the industrial age on a large scale, without the inefficiencies of kings and royalties. The plutocrats figured out how to manage manpower and capital on large scales. The technical class – well, crap, what didn’t they figure out?

Not that there’s not still technical work to be done; however, the biggest transformations that need to take place in the next 50 years are in mindset – how do we urge adoption of efficient energy technologies? How do we manage increasing urbanization and still fulfil basic human needs to create and build? How do we communicate; find people who share our ideas, ideals, wishes and dreams? And how do we negotiate with other groups without resorting to blowing them up?

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