Skills Digest 5/11/11: Essay Skills and Technology

Announcement: You can download the PowerPoint from the Mock III Paper 1 Review here. My thanks to Miss De Souza for her invaluable contributions.

Just some general comments on the 1001 ‘technology’ essays I’ve read over the past weeks.

1. Substantiation

There is a really problematic tendency for many students to revolve an entire paragraph around one specific technology. For instance, the handphone, or the catalytic convertor etc. If you are going to organize your points according to types of technology, please keep it broad (e.g. medical technology, information and communications technolog, energy technology etc.) so that your examples can then explore various specific technologies within that field. This was especially so for those who attempted the question on whether technology meets our desires or needs.

By the way, some of the better scripts for the desire/needs question actually managed to examine how ‘wants’ often evolve to become ‘needs'(or even vice versa). For instance, some students observed how plastic surgery once chiefly catered to our desires but has evolved to meet our ‘needs’ in an increasingly image-conscious world (in fact, some even argue beauty is a right). Others, used that very same example to argue how plastic surgery was conceived out of a need (WWII and facial reconstruction) but today merely caters to superficial desires. This brings me to another point about substantiation actually: strategically use your examples to illustrate your argument. Don’t enter into descriptive mode when discussing your examples. Highlight and develop only details that illustrate your argument.

2. Thinking Conceptually

Also, for questions like ‘can technology really save humankind/solve environmental problems/global issues etc.’, you can also consider organizing your essay according to broad arguments rather than technology type. For instance, you can utilize DIRT to actually form the four broad arguments you need. Consider the following structure:

Q. Can technology really save humankind?

– Point 1 Degree: Yes. Although technology has had its fair share of risks and failures, its potential for creating a wider impact is still key to solving global problems today.
– Point 2 Ideal vs. Pragmatic: Yes because it is realistically the best way forward given how many governments, businesses, scientific communities and schools are already embracing it.
– Point 3 Root: If one can identify how the poor and ineffective use of technology seems to be at the very core of many global problems today, then perhaps ensuring the better use of technology is the best answer to saving humanity.
– Point 4 Time: While many have blamed technology for being responsible for the problem themselves in the immediate sense, the ever advancing nature of technology makes it the best answer to our problems in the long run.

Once you have points like these, you can then easily utilize a range of broad examples for each of them (e.g. medical tech, energy tech, computer tech etc.) for substantiation.

3. Assessing Impact vs. Measuring Impact

When a questions is asking you to assess the impact, it is broadly, this is asking you to assess whether it is positive or negative, not whether there is impact or not. A question that asks you to consider the extent of impact is asking you measure it, not assess. Two key examples to illustrate the difference:

(1) Assess the impact of foreign media on youth in your society.
This question calls for the assessment of impact. You need to provide evidence to illustrate how the impact has been largely positive or negative.

(2) To what extent has technology had an impact on privacy and security in your country?
This question, on the other hand, calls for measurement. You need to evaluate the extent of impact i.e. has really changed the way we do things? does it really matter? E.g. Social media has had little impact on privacy as the relatively net-savvy users in my country are able to configure their privacy settings with ease (thus it has not really changed the way we do things; it doesn’t really matter)

4. More on Assessing Impact

Any essay that asks you to assess impact must well, contain evidence of that impact. This is especially problematic in questions that ask to assess the impact of media on this and that. Many cite the violent content and seemingly immoral values being portrayed without a single mention of any youth actually being affected. This makes your argument speculative and it reads like a brochure rather than a GP essay (“Oh the media is full of violent stuff and therefore parents need to supervise their kids”). So please provide some form of evidence of impact. Even if you don’t have mind-blowing statistics or studies, you can always infer from general trends around you to illustrate the impact as well (e.g. you might not know of any survey that claims students today have become over reliant on computers but I’m sure you can see this happening all around you).

Moving on, a particularly interesting question from some students’ practices was one consider the impact of technology on the family. Some ways to think about points whether technology has threatened X is to consider the form and function of X. For instance:

Q. Technology threatens the family. Do you agree?
Formation of the family threatened by advances in medical science (e.g. abortion, contraceptive pills) and the computer technologies (e.g. changing work structure enabling more women to seek career over family)
Function: Essential functions of family in relationship building (spouse to spouse) and upbringing (parent to child or vice versa) troubled by technologies that increasingly take away time and energy from members.

One can also consider the key goals/expectations of a group. For instance, in assessing the impact of technology on youth today, one can consider the key ares of development of a typical youth and assess the impact accordingly. For instance:
– Impact of technology on youth education
– Impact of technology on youth values
– Impact of technology on youth relationships

5. Ways of Thinking about Technology

Some final thoughts on technology:
– Technology is not exactly science. It is the application of science. It has existed since cavemen could create fire and has evolved over generations to help man apply his knowledge to making his life easier. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

In earlier times, technology grew out of personal experience with the properties of things and with the techniques for manipulating them, out of know-how handed down from experts to apprentices over many generations. The know-how handed down today is not only the craft of single practitioners but also a vast literature of words, numbers, and pictures that describe and give directions. But just as important as accumulated practical knowledge is the contribution to technology that comes from understanding the principles that underlie how things behave—that is, from scientific understanding.

– Technology is not some odd entity in and of itself. It is usually merely the means by which we try to make our lives better. So when technology ‘fails’, do consider whether it is really the fault of technology or the person behind it or using it; consider the interaction of technology with human nature (e.g. greed, competitiveness, noble, caring) and with larger forces and players in the world (e.g. MNCs, religious groups, governments, academics, scientists)


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