Spiderman vs Batman or Ironman (no, this is serious …really !)

Its no secret that most people who are into comics and superhero movies prefer Batman or Ironman over Spider man. Me being me, I see disconcerting patterns of influence on deeper collective social psyches in this pervasive favoritism of “rich” and “techy” superheroes without any miraculous superhuman powers over the one who has them. Let me begin with the disclaimer that I am not a superhero or comic books nerd but I spend enough time on social media (despite being a PhD student — guilty) to have come across the following images (which btw are hilarious).


If, for a moment, we imagine these “superheros” to be actual real people, who would or rather, who should we be in more awe of ? The ones who have lots of money and are able to “do” what they do through the power of shiny green paper or the one who has webbing coming out of his freaking wrists ? I rest my case. I think I’ve made my point that people generally tend to be affected more, not by freaks or miracles of nature or the natural world, but the grandeur of transient, fleeting money which buys cool gadgets to outsmart clearly ill-equipped opponents (add 007 Bond to that list of dollar-driven milieu of saviours) . That’s just groundbreaking, isn’t it ? (pun intended)

This trend, if we can call it that, seems trivial when I present it through the superhero example. But its sad that its not limited to pop culture, especially in the west. If you’re not into reading research stuff— here is where you stop.

The hype that accompanied the Smart Grid market in 2009, when ambitious targets to modernize the US grid were made, soon languished due to institutional inefficiencies, Congress gridlock followed by the dismal failure of global leadership to reach consensus at Copenhagen. According to Peter Asmus, Senior Analyst at Navigant Research,

“the stimulus funds deployed on behalf of the Smart Grid have, in some cases, been frittered away on poorly designed rollouts of smart meters and automated meter infrastructure and have underwritten utility overhead charges instead of creating new jobs linked to thoughtful and effective grid upgrades (including microgrids).” (Asmus, 2010, p. 80)

More simply, the US government forged ahead with implementing the smart functionalities (which is basically the addition of a layer of information and communication technologies (ICT) over the current electricity grid infrastructure) without putting enough thought into the underlying structure that these investments could benefit from— one such, as Asmus identifies, is Microgrids.

This presumably lead to high level discussions at Department of Energy (DoE) in reaction to the dissipated momentum in this direction and the failure to have made a dent in the carbon emissions from the energy sector. The result of this came out this year in the form of a DoE directive for funding towards ….wait for it…… MICROGRIDS — the underlying skeletal structure that imparts the “sense of application” to expensive smart technologies.

Did you notice how, even at the policy level, we seem to have jumped the gun ? Had the legislators thought the whole smart grid stimulus through, the frittering away  of taxpayer money wouldn’t have occurred. Had they been conscious of technical developments occurring in areas which are not as fascinating as those which involve cool “techy” gadgetry like smart meters or remote control infrastructures, they would have seen microgrids as a natural precursor to smart grids as they now do.

Is the fascination with technology taking us to our financial and even moral and social peril ? This could seem like a really harsh question to come from a post that started out with comics, but its one that we all need to be asking and be conscious about. Am I overthinking this too much, or do you agree that the human race needs to seriously chill (at least a little) when it comes to our imagination of what technology can do for us ? As I described in another post, this fascination may be, quite literally, creating a negative fall back of externalities on the natural ecosystems that created us, humans.


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