Passover as the First Eco Event

We're deep in the throes of the Jewish holiday of Passover, a celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, of freedom from slavery, and of the rebirth of spring. Capping the narrative of the Israelites' escape is the chronology of the ten plagues, a series of disasters including rivers of blood, wild beasts, hail, locusts, cattle disease and darkness. The hagaddah (the Passover man pages, if you will) we used on Sunday night referred to the plagues as a series of eco-disasters; that the ten plagues were not just relevant at a point in time 3,500 years ago but force us to re-tell the story in modern times to drive ecological consciousness. Unmitigated greenhouse gas produces darkness and eventually hail in extreme weather conditions; toxicity in the groundwater diseases animals. The idea isn't new, and there is a narrowly circulated academic journal article that puts the ten plagues in an eco-context. What's new is that Passover and Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day intersect on this year's calendar, and the theme of bringing our children into the workplace this year is "Making Choices for a Better World."

It's a bit difficult to explain to school aged kids who you do if you're a systems engineer. At various times, I've asked kids to name things with computers in them, going through the non-obvious ones like cars, cell phones, and cable boxes, explaining that all of those devices are more useful when they're getting data, and that's the kind of problem that we solve. At other events, I have asserted that online shopping is made possible through your friend the remainder, and suddenly fifth grade math and long division seem more real-world relevant (Only once did I take a detour into the Chinese Remainder Theorem, but that was to prove that some of these ideas are really old. Like older than the scary school nurse old -- sorry, Mom).

It's much easier to explain what systems engineers do in the context of social networking, content (including Moodle) sites, and network-delivered services. My concern is to tie the eco-theme into these discussions in a meaningful way for our kids - so that they think about the long-term consequences of how their personal data is handled, of how they store (and where they store) pictures, text, and meta data, and how the Internet really is the infamous "permanent record" that our principals warned us about. Cory Doctorow's equating personal data and toxic waste is accurate. It's up to us to tell the story, annually, to our kids so they can put a contemporary spin on potential eco-disasters, even those reflected in Biblical terms and proportions. That's the point of bringing our kids to work, just as it's the point of re-telling the Passover story each year.

Comments:

That OLD school nurse is now a computer literate devotee. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

Posted by Beverly Stern on April 25, 2008 at 01:12 PM EDT #

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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