Social problems need social solutions

As an engineer, I once attended an interview for admission into an institute of social sciences.

A professor from the institute first peppered me with technical questions. He asked me about mechanical engineering and we discussed how we might use renewables to tackle the problem of climate change. So far, I was on familiar ground.

He then asked me which technology one could use to tackle poverty. I managed to come up with some answer.

‘What about the caste system? And gender equality? Which technology can you use to address those problems?’

I found my answers faltering.

Amused at my consternation, he explained how these weren’t technological problems. They were social problems and they needed social solutions. He had exposed how, as a hammer wielding technologist, I was tempted to think of every single problem as a nail.

As techies, it is easy to downplay the contribution of people who specialize in the humanities. Those disciplines are called the humanities for a reason. For not all problems that humans face can be solved using spanners, hammers and circuit boards.

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