I was reflecting on the "disgust and revulsion" occassioned by "the Crickett"--a (slightly) minaturized but fully authentic, functional .22 rifle that is marketed for children ("my first rifle!"), one of which figured in the widely reported fatal shooting of a 2-year-old by her 5-year-old brother (the Crickett "owner") in Kentucky.
That got me to thinking about the links between cultural styles, the role of technological objects in expressing and propagating them, and the way in which emotions figure both in the value (or disvalue) we attach to such objects and the risks (or benefits) we see those objects as posing (or conferring)....
I thought maybe I'd write about this but I was not sure exactly how to put things or exactly what I think anyway. Actually, those problems rarely stop me, but still, I thought I'd try something else that might both communicate my apprehension of the phenomenon and motivate others to try to help make me sense of it.
I admit that I am disgusted by the Crickett (I admit, too, that I'm slightly concerned about why, and about the challenge this reaction creates for me in trying to see things in a fair and impartial light and to deal with others in a respectful and tolerant way).
But the Bumblebee "first drone" strikes me (so to speak) as wondrous and beautiful--and a brilliant child's toy! Indeed, I'd very much like one myself.
One of the reasons I can't get one is that it doesn't exist--yet. But I'm sure someone-- someone else who followed this week's less widely heralded reporting on the progress of Harvard University's "Robobee" project-- is working on it. (You can get the Crickett, or at least could until a couple days ago; the "newsletter" for Crickett.com is real & was captured from the internet before the recent Kentucky shooting, after which the company shut down its internet site.)
At the same time, I know that the Bumblebee-- and the anticipated companion "first drones" that its manufacturer has in the works--will fill many with horror, revulsion, disgust. As a result, it will fill them with fear of all the harms—to public safety, to privacy, and to other goods--that private drones pose.
Is that part of what I like about the Bumblebee? I don't think so; I sure hope not, in fact.
But knowing they feel this way almost fills me with resolve to buy one for myself, and another two or three for holiday gifts and birthday presents for children whose families I know will want them to grow up sharing their fascination and wonder for science, technology, and human ingenuity . . . .
A while back, I posted a 2-part series "Who are these guys?," which responded to Jen Brisseli's request for a more vivid picture of the sorts of people who subscribe to the cultural styles defined by the "cultural cognition worldview" framework.
This post is in the spirit of that, I think. Indeed, I think it is in the spirit of how Jen Brisseli wants to promote reflection on science generally with her "designing science" conception of science communication--this way of proceeding likely occurred to me b/c I have had the benefit of reflecting on what she is up to.
But now my question is this: who would be filled with appreciation and passion, and who with revulsion & disgust, by these "toys"? And why? Who are these guys?
In this regard -- and getting back to the form of inquiry and communication that I usually use to address such matters -- it's interesting to consider perceptions of technology risks.
In one CCP study of nanotechnology risk perceptions, we found that there was no cultural division over its risks and benefits generally. Not surprising, since 80% of the subjects had no idea what it was.
But when we exposed another group of subjects to a small amount of scientifically accurate, balanced information on nanotechnology risks and benefits, those individuals polarized along lines consistent with cultural predispositions associated with pro- and anti-technology outlooks.
The cultural group that credited the information about nanotechnology benefits and discounted the information about risks, moreover, was generally hierarchical and individualistic in orientation. People with these outlooks are generally skeptical of environmental risks--ones relating to nuclear power and climate change, e.g.
But they also are the ones most predisposed to see gun risks as low--and see the risks associated with excessive control, including impairment of lawful self-defense, as high. They believe, too, that empirical evidence compiled by scientists backs them up on this, and that their views on both climate change and nuclear power are also consistent with scientific consensus.
Egalitarian communiatarian subjects are generally very sensitive to technology risks -- they worry a lot about both climate change and nuclear power.
They also are sickened by guns. They find them disgusting. And consistent with cultural cognition they see guns as extremely risky, and gun control as extremely effective--and believe that empirical evidence compiled by scientists back them up on this, just as such evidence backs up their views about environmental and technological risks.
I bet people who buy "the Crickett" for their young children are mainly hierarchical and individualist. Does that mean they would also like the Bumblebee?
Would egalitarian communitarian, who I'm sure tend to be very disturbed by the Crickett, think the Bumblebee is also an abomination? And of course a tremendous risk to public safety and various other elements of well-being?
I sort of think that this conclusion isn't really right. That it's too simple....
If the insight that is enabled by simplifying complicated true things outweighs the distortion associated with what is necessarily false about simplifying them, then a model advances understanding.
But even a model that advances understanding in this way with respect to some issues or for a period of time can become one that doesn't advance understanding -- because what is false about it obscures insight into complicated things that are true -- with respect to some other set of issues, or with respect even to the same ones at a later time ....
Anyway, I plan to keep my eye on drones. I think they are or can be beautiful. But I know that they also sicken and disgust others. Who? and Why?