For a while, it was nice to think of the algorithms that run the internet as being entirely objective. Websites were not supposed to change what anyone said, they were merely a medium through which to say it. In the past few years, however, companies like Reddit and Twitter have realized that they don’t necessarily want their websites to become the home of abuse and vitriol. This is not a simple problem to solve, however, as each time a website does something that is perceived as non-objective, they get attacked for being unfair. When people found out, for example, that Facebook’s trending news section was chosen by employees rather than actual popularity, many people (primarily conservatives) accused the website of propaganda and silencing of certain voices. How, then, does someone make decisions?
Tracy Chou, a very successful software engineer, promotes one possibility: humanities. In a piece on Quartz she talks about how she spent her college career ignoring her non-engineering classes, and why she regrets that now:
Ruefully—and with some embarrassment at my younger self’s condescending attitude toward the humanities—I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education. That I’d learned how to think critically about the world we live in and how to engage with it. That I’d absorbed lessons about how to identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice. That I’d had opportunities to debate my peers and develop informed opinions on philosophy and morality. And even more than all of that, I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.
This is of course not an entirely new thought, but still an important one. In the pendulum of education, society seems to swing between the extremes of “STEM is the only field worth studying” to “the humanities are the most important studies for mankind to undertake.” As with almost any black-and-white debate, the answer is actually in between. Every philosopher should know something about the physics and technology that creates our world, and every scientist should spend time pondering questions about the nature of being.
Fortunately, one place you can study the humanities is right here at CALA. If you’re in the STEM fields, take a look at the many history, literature, theater, music, and philosophy courses we’ll be offering this fall. And if you’re in humanities, you could always consider taking a course in programming, information security, or data science.