When to Go Back to Basics

This post backtracks to some extent to one of the earlier “questions to think about” that Blaine always leaves us with after class. The question “Is technological innovation essential to the advancement of society?” plays out really strongly in this week’s lectures. There are polymers that can heal themselves, insulation materials made of almost nothing but air, and carbon nanotubes smaller than a human hair; materials not thought possible even thirty years ago. And while these materials will all be revolutionary in their own right, when does technological innovation become somewhat arbitrary?

In one of my previous sustainability classes, there was a comparison brought up between two recently developed skylight concepts. The first one our professor showed us was the Swedish company Parans and their solar tracking skylight/LED combo. Using sensors installed in a unit on the roof of the building, the system pivots and angles itself to get optimal sunlight during the course of the day. Once the sun sets, LED lights can be activated within the same cavity that sunlight comes through. The other skylight is the same system Blaine talked about in Tuesday’s lecture: Liter of Light. Each light is equivalent to a 55W bulb. Locals are paid to gather bottles, prepare them for installment, and install them.

http://www.parans.com/eng/media/http://www.wheninmanila.com/a-liter-of-light-isang-litrong-liwanag-making-the-world-a-brighter-place-one-bottle-at-a-time/Both of these technologies tackle the same problem (need for natural light) in very different ways. Yet both ultimately accomplish the same result. So is technological innovation truly essential to the advancement of society if a $5 skylight can get light in just as well as a $5,000 skylight? When is it best to look at what is around us right now and utilize that in new ways, rather than creating something entirely new?

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One comment

  1. lask0062

    I have heard about these as well. I think that you bring up an extremely solid point here. Why do we invest so much money into something that can be done to the same degree for a fraction of the price? I feel it might be more logical to argue that although innovation does not really play a part in the advancement of society socially, it plays a part in the advancement of providing us with better products. Some great innovations have arrived that without we would not have had an opportunity to continue forward. For example, electricity, solar panels, and even steel. I know these are a selection of random things, but each one helped further our society to new lengths. Electricity is pretty obvious what it has done for society. It basically controls everything. Solar panels are great because they are helping to lower costs of energy and provide another source of renewable energy. WIthout steel, many iconic buildings and bridges may have not been possible. But then, it then is questionable if these advancements actually did good for society or if they just showed what we could do with new technology. Personally, I think that for something to be considered innovative for society, it needs to help improve the lives of the masses. Blaine’s question of if it is “essential” is hard to ask because it poses such an ultimatum. I feel that it is necessary for our society to continually strive for more to better improve our lives and the lives of others.

    I think what the Liter of Light could also be seen as is social innovation. People being creative with the resources around them. I don’t think of this as the same as technological innovation. Something like the solar panels that move to follow the light I would consider technological innovation because it is a new idea to improve something that already existed. Whereas the Liter of Light innovate in a more resourceful and creative way. They are going through the same creative process of thinking up a way to bring light into a place. It can be argued that the Liter of Light is more innovative in means of creativity because they were faced with a challenge of how to bring light in while working within their boundaries of things like cost and material. This group came up with an extremely innovative idea to help out their society which includes the communities help and even pays them for it. This type of innovative thinking I believe is essential to the advancement of society. Especially in the state of the world we are in now, innovative thinking like that will help out many falling societies. We have found ourselves in a time where innovative thinking needs to be geared toward making the world more sustainable environmentally and socially. Ideas like Liters of Light and steps forward in the right direction.

    I think that this type of innovation is more important to society in the means of making things work. It is great and exciting that we are inventing all of these new technologies, but if it is only available to a small population, it really is not for the betterment of society. It may be better environmentally, but if only a small amount of people are using it, then it is only making a small change on the world.

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