Are the Oil Spill Solutions an Indicator of Failed Technology?
In typical modern American style, we seem to expect a science and technology solution for everything these days. Why haven’t we been able to produce solutions to every problem we encountered – some more acceptable than others. After all, we’ve prevented the spread of disease; we’ve made the Internet an unsurpassed worldwide, on-demand resource for research and learning; stopped wars, and made cellular communications one of life’s essential necessities.
For the past 7 weeks, millions of people have been watching up to 800,000 barrels of oil gushing from a broken pipe on the ocean floor with technological solution after solution fail to stop a wasteful flow that may continue until August when the relief piping can be completed. Many think that this is just the next chapter in failed technology. The previous chapters might be remembered as the Exxon Valdez, the explosions of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles, and now this?
Some pundits are wrongly comparing this latest disaster to that of Hurricane Katrina (2005). First, the devastation of Katrina was known; it could be seen, photographed and clearly documented by everyone from Washington, DC to the lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The two are clearly not the same. When the origin of the disaster lies hidden a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, we turned to the expertise of energy engineers and industry officials. Our knowledge comes from them, not from our own ability to witness the event. If the officials are not forthcoming with their knowledge of what’s happening, how can any of us be sure of the disaster’s impact? If their action of solutions (as well as the planning and implementation) are based on flawed engineering, how do we determine where to place the blame? This realizes that the intent is to resolve disasters by accusation and legal retribution rather focusing on how/why the failure occurred.
What we are actually watching without absorbing is that our technology comes not from Divine intervention but from human engineering. As flawed as the technologies may be, they are still a product of our diverse culture and far too fragmented education system. When high school education focuses more on students’ abilities to take one big final test to graduate, college education is undermined. When college students in math, engineering, and sciences are more attracted to using their skills selling derivatives and futures in financial markets, our technology weakens. When our society and education systems focus on enriching wealth at the expense of knowledge, we resign our future to flawed technological solutions.