Even though his speech is not about technology, psychologist Barry Schwartz would be a great speaker to bring to Bucknell. Schwartz, who studies the link between economics and psychology, advocates that we all need “practical wisdom”, not brilliance, to fight against our bureaucratic society. This “wisdom” cannot be learned overnight, but comes from experiences in which people are allowed to “improvise, try new things, occasionally fail and learn from [their] failures.”
Schwartz argues that both our wisdom and morality are being challenged by the two solutions our bureaucratic society offers to all problems: regulation and incentives. Regulated ‘scripts,’ such as how all kindergarten teachers in Chicago teach their students the letter B, prevent the possibility of disaster, but they “assure mediocrity” because people are not allowed to reach their full potential. Likewise, people who excessively rely on incentives can lose morale because they no longer choose do the “right” thing.
Throughout the lecture, Schwartz captivates his audience by telling stories that contain lessons on both wisdom and morality, such as kind-hearted hospital janitors and unwittingly stupid parents. Schwartz’s only reference to technology is in his discussion is of another speaker’s deforestation process in Indonesia. That project required large technical skill, but it was only successful because the Indonesian people supported the initiative. Technology does not exist in a vacuum, it requires understanding and accepting of those who the technology will affect. Although he is not the ideal ‘technology’ speaker, the Bucknell community would be privileged to hear Barry Schwartz’s discussion about practical wisdom. We all could use some of it.