Editor – I thoroughly enjoyed Kelvin Kemm’s column in the Engineering News edition of July 29, 2016, concerning presenting an alternative take on history not seen through the lens of politics. His article skimmed over the main scientific, technological and economic issues of the last few centuries and I am left thinking that there is scope here for a series on the history of mankind from various alternative (nonpolitical) perspectives, and also that we need to rethink how history is packaged and presented at school.
Here are two stories to illustrate my point.
I am left perplexed and frustrated by the somewhat ignorant utterances in public forums about how ‘technology will destroy jobs’. We are currently in the era of the third industrial revolution (there may have been more, depending on your perspective and paradigm, but that is another debate), and this argument comes up again and again. Fears that technological change will lead to mass job losses have been evident since the dawn of the first industrial revolution. A famous example occurred in the early nineteenth century, when textile artisans in England protested against the deployment of stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms, all labour-saving machinery. Their main objection was that the machinery could be operated by less-skilled (and, therefore, cheaper) workers, leading to job losses among skilled workers.
A month ago, I hosted a world-renowned academic from the Polytechnic University of Milan, Italy, in South Africa to speak at the Manufacturing Indaba, on the digitisation of manufacturing. He often tells a story of when his preteen daughter came home one day, rather downcast and angry. When he enquired what the problem was, she said that she no longer liked him and what he did because her teacher had told her that manufacturing was destroying the planet and the environment. So, here is a professor of advanced and sustainable manufacturing and operations management at a leading European university, in one of the most advanced, sophisticated and diversified manufacturing regions of Europe (Lombardy), who engages with all levels of manufacturing firms on a regular basis, and his daughter’s teacher still thinks that manufacturing is dull, dirty and dangerous.
How are historians going to write about Facebook, Uber and Google in years to come if they do not understand that the Internet, ubiquitous WiFi and related technologies enabled the success of these and other companies? Do they understand the notion of the design thinking inherent in Apple that contributed to the company’s success? There is much focus internationally on science journalism (teaching journalists how to write about science and technology) and science communication (equipping scientists on how to engage with the media). Perhaps we need to be thinking at a different level and equip the people who write school text books to think beyond a narrow political perspective.
The writer works for a national government department, but writes in his personal capacity