A challenge for any technology community is to manage how they are perceived by the public, policy makers, etc. This is something that many technologists and engineers “just don’t get”. However, a key part of social impact is public perspective.
I had a curious lesson in this from the Oil Industry on a trip though Midland Texas. As you may know, if you travel though US oil country (Texas, Montana, etc.) there are areas where you can’t get a hotel room, or if you can it costs an arm and leg … the oil industry is having a construction boom. Midland is one such spot.
This is the location of “The Petroleum Museum” where the industry celebrates it’s technology, history, etc. There is lots of neat stuff, some interactive displays (unfortunately the one demonstrating a well pump is not a pump, which would be an easy fix that would help folks “get it”) …
A promotional video tends to get a bit too strong on the push for oil, discounting all other forms of energy. That is not needed, not credible, and probably not in the interest of the oil industry (some of the major suppliers are investing in alternative energy sources, and many are promoting these as part of their advertising at least.) … So, once you lose your credibility it is hard to recover.
Given the general interest in clean energy and impact on the environment, Midland Texas is a poster child for failure. Ok, so I’m not a Texas desert flat land advocate in the first place. But, the amount of liter, roadside trash, accumulated junk is downright amazing. Short of driving in a dump, I’ve actually never seen the sheer quantity of garbage, and this is all down the major highway into, through and leading out of town. A little bit of image control could go a long way, and that might include cleaning up the area surrounding the museum, airport, etc.
If the oil industry manages the environmental impact of their drilling and other activities the way they do one of their major centers of operations — well, they have a public relations problem.
And remember — this is a key aspect of technology — the industry as a user of technology, and also as part of the “pipeline” essential to powering our technology.
So we need to consider where that finger points.