I was recently invited by the South African Journal of Science to report on a webinar held on the 4th of August 2021 as part of their participation in science week. Science week is an annual event which aims at making more people aware of science, and to recruit more learners and students to pursue further education and careers in the sciences. It reminds me of the annual Grahamstown Arts and Culture Festival which also aims at raising awareness of the arts. I attended one in 2016. Epic! Just as exciting as the science week webinar.
Enough with the comparison. Let me get back to my invitation by the South African Journal of Science. Their webinar was entitled “How do we know if and when science makes a difference?” Provocative, right? You would think the question needs some length of scientific understanding and engagement to answer. But truly it does not. Listening to the various speakers making their presentations, I asked myself, how did we meet today? What made this prestigious scientific webinar possible in a time when gatherings are prohibited by the government in its attempt to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without any difficulty, these two words popped up in my mind ‘science and technology’. We met, while in the comforts of our own spaces; both socially and geographically distanced. We ‘gathered’ and discussed the aforementioned topic. Our meeting was made possible by internet communication which is enabled by science and technology.
But I suppose I am saying all these from a simplistic point of view, seeing that I am not a scientist but a literary scholar. However, I have seen science in action. For example, most of the food we consume today is genetically modified. Some is even processed to keep it fresh for a longer period. Think of a can of fish that goes for so many years still preserved and fresh, and think about a fresh tuna that you cooked two days ago and it is only dustbin friendly right now and not edible. What makes the canned fish last longer? Is it not scientific chemicals? Is that not science in action?
However, I guess the question goes beyond my simplistic view of science and technology as key role players in simplifying our lives. To ask about science and technology’s contribution to humanity is, for me, to ask what makes us who and what we are. One of the presenters spoke about the importance of nutrition and food security in South Africa and Africa at large. This was in the context of technology, alluding to how technology continues to play a key role in Agriculture. During this captivating presentation, I kept thinking of the many technological ways some South African farmers have adapted to ensure food security. These methods include Hydroponic farming.
I have had the pleasure of once seeing such a farm. Wonders! It really demonstrates exactly how science makes our lives so easy and secured. In a hydroponic farm, the farmer is in control of their crops. The farmer controls the amount of nutrients the crops receive, this means the chances of losing crops is lessened. The farmer also controls the temperature and most importantly he/she has the freedom to plant any crop at any time without the restrictions of seasons, unlike in traditional farming. All these is made possible by scientific measures. If this is not science in action, I do not know what is. Shallow and simplistic as my response to the question posed by the webinar may be, I tried showing you that we can hardly do without scientific innovation. I am not suggesting we are technopoly, but we rely so much on science.