On Technology Dynamics Class: Effect of Technology and Papers

So I’m now studying for my exam.

First of all let me introduce you about the system here: it’s divided to quarters, not semesters. So every quarter I have different subjects. This quarter I’m taking Technology Dynamics, Financial Management, and Leadership & Technology Management. Prior to the exam week, we have “witte week”, translated to white week, or in Indonesian “minggu tenang”, a week when there is no lecture and we can use the time to study.

Back to preparing exam.

Now I’m reading the articles for Technology Dynamics. TD is one of my favorite subject so far (yes, so far I favorite it all. So.) in which I have a lot of new views competing for a place in my mind. I’m now supposed to write down all the terms used in TD, but I’m stuck reading a paper that is very interesting. It is about the history of PVC plastic. This paper describe all the development stages of PVC plastic, including its problems. Yes, PVC plastic has made a revolution of plastic usage in modern history, from cable casings, pipes, food packaging, etc. But, it also has a dark history of people suffering because of PVC. This article alone has mentioned Minamata disease, 11 facory worker deaths in 1974 due to vinyl chloride exposure, and 175 cases of liver cancer worldwide by 1995, caused by VC. Even the VC residue was detected in packaging, food, drinks, household goods, and furnishing. Even, the wives of PVC workers had more possibility of miscarriages.

I’m not gonna confuse you with the technical terms in the paper (“reverse salient”, “entrenchment”), I just want to make you aware that there may be another side of technological advancement that we don’t think of. I also learn in another paper: “NIMBY” or Not In My BackYard. It reflects the phenomenon of our society: we don’t really care about the implementation of a new technology, a potentially-having-bad-effect ones in particular, if it doesn’t occur in our hometown or near to where we live.

Reduction of VC emissions in PVC production in Germany (source: sciencedirect.com)

One of the main theme in TD talks about “engineer’s active responsibility“. Basically it said that the engineers should think about the effect of the technology they are developing since design stage – very early. Using PVC plastic article as an example, even though the discovery of PVC plastic took place on 1912, the toxic effect of was just published in 1938 – eight years after PVC products were found in the market (1930). Unfortunately, no further action was taken until the worldwide panic on 1974 resulting from the human deaths reported (since then VC emission was greatly reduced, see graph). Note: this is a form of “passive responsibility”: one just started to be responsible if a case happen.

So that’s a part of my TD class.

Btw, this is the first time I had to read all the papers (journal articles, proceedings, etc) as a study material – TD doesn’t use any textbook. This is very much different from my bachelor study where I learn mainly from lecture slides, books, and case study. Discussing with Diska, we thought that this may be the difference from bachelor and master studies, or maybe from the education in a place where you can’t access journal articles freely and where you can open Springer and Scopus even from your bed. And even though I have still a lot more to read, I already know the development of various technology: membrane tech, cars, PVC, biotechnology, bicycle, energy, etc. I even have a tiny little bit idea about policy making and stakeholder participation. I love this class.

Lastly: I hope I can make use of this knowledge for Indonesia in the future. And for human being.

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