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September 2008
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Technology, Society and The Environment: Week 3 vs TAC: Day 1

It was a pretty busy week between class and the Transportation Association of Canada Conference but it was a great learning experience. This week our focus was the technology-based connectiveness …

Did we influence technology or did technology influence us?

Vanderburg cited that it was cyclical and he used the example of the  the textile industry to illustrate how we how both technology influences society and how we as a society influence technology.

It starts with Adam Smith’s technical devision of labour, which I mentioned last week here. Simply put the techical devision of labour is simplifying every little task in a production line into one job, think of it like an automobile makers construction line. To get back to the textile industry, Vanderburg stated that when society developed the first machine, let’s say it was a spinner, this created bottlenecks in the system. Why? Well now you couldn’t get enough wool from the sheep and after spinning there weren’t enough people with hand-looms to spin this into basic fabric.

First we have society influencing technology; we designed a machine to spin the wool faster. Next technology influences society; individuals can acheive higher profits if they can output more textiles, but in order to do that they need mechanized looms. As the mechanized loom goes into production a bottleneck is suffered in the stitching of fabrics. Etc, etc, etc, until every step becomes mechanized.

He concluded with a bunch of questions. How did this affect us in terms of our culture? How can we produce goods without being so harsh to the environment? Can we get people to think of the triple bottom line; economics, environment and society? (Afterall over 50% of physical and mental disease is attributed to the work place)

But how did this influence the first day of the conference?

Interestingly enough the first session I attended, Transportation Sustainability: From Policy to Reality, echoed Vanderburg’s course theme; we are all specialists in one area of expertise, but with every decision we make there are consequences outside our specialty. The only way that we can solve these problems effectively is to involve other experts that specialize in our area of consequence …

it is easier to solve a problem as a team than as an individual.

The 5 speakers, Pierre Marin (Transport Canada), Bruce McCuaig (Ministry of Transportation of Ontario), Gerry Welsh (City of Toronto), Jay Romator (Alberta Transportation) and John Hubbell (City of Calgary), all agreed that to solve the transit problems that one needed to involve various ministries. For instance the Light Rail System (LRT) that may be used in Calgary. You have to involve team members who speicialize in pedestrian, bike, car, and transit. Then your team expands even further to include the necessary architects and engineers to design this all. And finally get the public involved to see what ideas they have. And although this process is lengthy, in the end it saves both time and money because it has involved the interests of all parties involved; subsequent modifications to the plan are not usually needed.

As the session closed I went for a run to process everything from the day. It certainly was positive and set a great tone for the remaining two days.