Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unintended consequences: King Ludd was right

Natural science has a funny way of bumping up against high tech. While we are way past the point of  rationally discussing whether we'd be better off without automobiles, industrialized agriculture, or Auto-Tune (I'd vote against all three), not all high tech gadgets are irreversibly entrenched in our culture.

King Ludd--waiting for rain to wash his hands
Hands-free sinks have always annoyed me--I like being able to alter the water temperature, and I have a bad habit of setting my papers down on the sink's edge, with predictable consequences. They make sense, though--less touching, more sanitary. The last thing a hand touches before turning on a bathroom sink may be a less-than-pristine orifice.

Hospitals have spent oodles of dollars installing the sinks for this reason. Nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections are a huge expense, and despite occasional evidence to the contrary, hospitals want their patients to get better.

Alas, turns out the money may be wasted. A Johns Hopkins study shows that automatic faucets may increase risks of nosocomial infections; the fancy valves used in the high-tech sinks serve as breeding grounds for Legionella bacteria.

As a result, "hospital leadership elected to use traditional fixtures – some 1,080 of them – in all patient care areas in the new clinical buildings currently under construction at Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore campus." Yep, they're removing the high-tech fancy doo-dad sinks and replacing them with, ahem, traditional fixtures.

How many high-tech devices in the classroom truly improve education? 

Maybe if they look at the morbidity from cars, they'll consider removing the parking lots, too.


Anonymous said...

Cars don't make people obese and unfit. The combination of mouths and cars make people obese and unfit.
Sorry, doesn't have quite the ring of "guns don't kill people" - I did my best with what I have.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm not concerned with the obesity--people can still make choices about walking or driving. I'm concerned about the tremendous environmental and cultural damage done to all of us, even those who choose not to use the technology.

If we were rational critters, we'd be having a long hard look at how we use cars.

But we're not...

Kathryn J said...

Not many tech things improve education. In my school, teachers get smartboards and clicker systems - not me, I'm too new. I get nothing I don't scrounge.

I need beakers. I don't want a smartboard or clickers but I do want lab equipment. I want them to replace the chemicals I used last semester so that I can actually teach Chemistry. Simulations are worthless.

Why would students believe something on a screen that they accessed with a clicker? They have certainly learned that anything can be created in a videogame.