Byte-Sized Virtue S02E03 - What If All the Starbucks Closed?
Is post-secondary education all it's cracked up to be? Is STEM education the be-all and end-all of education? Why can't China make ball-point pens?

Podcast Topic

For this second season of Byte-Sized Virtue, we continue to take the episode structure in a bit of a different direction, at least in part. This is the third episode drawn from a discussion between Withstand the Fury Dragon and an friend old friend of his, Paul, whose philosophical musings he has consistently enjoyed and respected. And rather than talk about any specific Virtue or Principle from Ultima, or its real-world equivalent, they will be tackling a range of topics that...well, you'll just have to listen.

In this episode, Paul explains his choices of social media networks, including why he finds Twitter boring. He also explains how he uses Facebook in a way that not many probably do, which is to keep in touch with people he does actually consider friends...especially those who don't live close to him.

The discussion then shifts gears and focuses on the issue of post-secondary education, and on what Paul feels is an over-emphasis on STEM fields in education (at the expense of the humanities). He and Withstand the Fury agree that a healthy society ultimately requires both: if all we have on hand are engineers and scientists, we might have nice pavement and flowing pipes, but we don't really have a society per se; we just have infrastructure and technology. Society needs those things, of course, but it isn't comprised of those things; it flows out of art and literature as well, among other areas. (Withstand the Fury likens this to game design, the process of which requires the talents not only of engineers and programmers, but of artists, writers, and musicians as well.)

This, of course, raises another question: should everyone go to college/university in the first place? Do we need everyone to pursue some form of post-secondary education? Do we need all our garbage collectors and coffee shop barristas to hold advanced degrees? And, does the fact that some of these roles don't necessarily require advanced degrees diminish their importance to society? Consider the average Starbucks: it's more than just a place to get a cup of coffee. It's also a social context, and even a work space for some. If all the Starbucks closed tomorrow because they could no longer find staff, what sort of impact would that have?

This episodes also marks a first that will hopefully also be a last: we discuss Donald Trump, briefly. Or, rather, returning to the disucssion of STEM education and where countries put their priority in education, Withstand the Fury briefly discusses why Trump's offhand remark about forcing Apple to make iPhones in the US is stupid and misinformed; there's a number of reasons that iPhones are made in China, not the least of which is that the Chinese government has made a series of decisions over the last few decades with respect to its manufacturing industries and the types of education it encourages its citizens to pursue, which have left China in the position of being well-disposed to mass-produce consumer electronics.

But, Withstand the Fury notes, those same decisions have also left China in the odd position of being able to make an excellent phone...and almost unable to manufacture a good ball-point pen. Or, rather, they are unable to manufacture the key component thereof (the little metal ball at the tip of the pen). China manufactures millions upon millions of pens each year, but most of the production companies have to import metal balls from Japan, Germany, or Switzerland.


Ethereal Void, from the Ultima 9 soundtrack