Social & Cultural Dimension004_5 SOCIAL IMPACTS OF ENGINEERING.doc)

Social & Cultural Dimension004_5 SOCIAL IMPACTS OF ENGINEERING.doc)

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SOCIAL IMPACTS OF ENGINEERING Many engineering developments of this century with immense impacts on our lives have not been accompanied by  realistic engineering views of those impacts on the social fabric or the environment. Would the societal consequences  have been different if engineers had been more involved in a systematic study of engineering's complex role in  society, had a working dialogue with social scientists, and had better communication with the public? For instance,  could we have anticipated that the automobile would turn out to be a severe source of pollution as well as a powerful  instrument of urban change, that radios in every household would catalyze the political emancipation of women, or  that television would influence our values and contribute to functional illiteracy? Could we have anticipated that a  broader base of affluence brought about by technology in the nations of the West would be accompanied by the rise  of anomie and a drug culture among not only the poor and the disenfranchised, but also the more affluent who have  in many material ways benefited the most from technology? Could we have anticipated that abundant energy for  industries and homes or the invention of plastic materials would have such serious environmental consequences, and  that “cleaner” technologies, such as computers, would damage the earth 's ozone layer because of the use of  chlorofluorocarbons in the fabrication of microchips? The list of impacts and side effects of technology is long and growing and has contributed to society's ambivalence  about technology. While it would be wrong to blame the engineer for the apparent lack of interest by large portions of  society in understanding the technological process with its constraints and possibilities, engineers can do much to  reduce society's ambivalence if they could overcome their own parochialism. For example, a gap that exists  sometime between the perceptions of the engineers and those of the rest of society can be seen in educational  technology. Engineers have tended to focus on the development of new technologies rather than the social setting — municipal bureaucracies, school systems, and homes—in which that technology is to become acceptable if it is to be  successful (NAE, 1974). Part of the difficulty engineers encounter in dealing with social issues has to do with too many definitions of  engineering and the lack of agreed upon and shared tenets. The famous 1828 definition of engineering by the British  Institution of Engineering—as the modification of nature (Encyclopaedia
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