Without a doubt, technology has shaped the world we find ourselves in, made the world better, but has also left us unprepared for the world's latest series of catastrophes.
April 27, 2022
This summer I will have been Editorial Director at Digital Engineering for three years. Not long after I started here, we experienced a once-in-a-century global pandemic (that is still going on as I write this). And as we move past the two-year anniversary of that world-altering disaster, Russia has invaded Ukraine, the largest military operation Europe has seen since World War II.
Suffice it to say that I have had a hard time concentrating on this month’s focus topic, Generative Design.
I have thought a lot about technology, however—how it has shaped the world we find ourselves in, made the world better, but also left us unprepared for this particular series of catastrophes.
When I was in college, there was another war in Europe—the Bosnian War of 1992-1995—and I saw a speaker on campus talking about the conflict. I do not remember his exact quote, but it was something like this: “World War I never ended; they just took a 75-year intermission.”
I was reminded of that quote when the war in Ukraine began, and how we who live in what are considered Western countries have slipped into a series of comforting fictions about war and disaster and where it lives. First, conflict has been kept at such a physical distance that for most of us, the world seems much more peaceful than it really is. Second, we have let ourselves believe that even the most repressive governments, if fattened enough with free trade in oil, entertainment and cheap electronics, would eventually fall in line with what we think of as “normal.” We thought the global economy would continue running like a well-oiled machine because of our increasing connectedness. And finally, we fooled ourselves into thinking that everybody’s money spends the same.
In 2020 these assumptions were rattled when the normal order of things was almost flattened, like those Martian invaders in War of the Worlds, by a tiny virus. And now Russian President Vladimir Putin has reminded us that petulant acts of raw, brute force still live with us always, and everywhere.
The next wars among the global powers were supposed to be digital, but this one has so far been a mixed bag of tanks, missiles, economic sanctions and random acts of digital vigilantism. By the time you read this, I expect things will get much worse, but I still hope and pray they will get better.
The engineering industry has responded, like other sectors, by pulling out of investments and partnerships in Russia. At a more foundational level, countries around the world are asking questions about how to make that decoupling from Russia and other troubling regimes more permanent. I am not sure how that will shake out in the long term, but it will likely accelerate the global rethinking of the supply chain that began when COVID-19 shut everything down two years ago.
While in some ways technology lulled us into complacency before this conflict, it is also proving useful. Technology has helped the Ukrainians resist the invasion, and has helped keep the rest of the world engaged and active in assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia.
Which brings us back to engineering. I hope that the technology we write about here at DE will be deployed (as it was during the pandemic) to help assist the millions of Ukrainian refugees displaced now by the war, and to help rebuild Ukraine in the future. And I hope that technology can also be put to use to help governments and private companies alike to rethink how and where they can do business.