If It Feels Good… February 3, 2005
There’s no question that human beings are hardwired to make new stuff out of old stuff, to want to discover new things and make old things better. Ever since the first proto-human picked up a rock and used it as a tool, there have been engineers, and ever since someone investigated what that rock could break and what it couldn’t, there have been scientists. People like figuring our how things work and then making new things that work. It turns out that all those teachers were right: Science is fun!
Scientist and lecturer Arnold Pacey’s book Meaning in Technology focusses on the emotional aspects of the pursuit of science and engineering. He points out that generally it feels good to solve problems and create things, and that science as a purely objective discipline has never existed. Pacey also explores how just using technology also has some of these same effects - it feels neat to use high-tech equipment. The proliferation of magazines and websites devoted to what’s new and cool in consumer technology can testify to this.
Pacey points out that there’s nothing wrong with getting pleasure out of working with technology, but the emotional motivators must be checked by critical reasoning.
“An important lesson to learn from creative work in science and engineering is the although ideas may arise in all sorts of ways that may be described as intuitive or participatory, there is always an obligation to translate them into more rigorous, often mathematical formulations, so that others may understand and check them, and explore their precise implications.” (p.13)
These days, there seems to be a new hedonism reigning both in sci/tech labs and the gadget aisles at your local store. The motto is If it feels good, do it! The big problem with hedonism has always been that others can inadvertently be harmed by one person’s excesses, a problem which is greatly exacerbated when the lust for more is in the arena that brought us the nuclear bomb, genetic modification and an endless supply of annoying downloadable ringtones. We need to start showing a bit more restraint in the things we build, modify and buy. Even though something cool and new can be done, we still need to determine if it should be done.