Reading the obituaries recently in The New York Times, I had to conclude – no engineers died today!
I could have seen that literally as a good thing – no engineers died – but though we think we are immortal, engineers do die. It could also be seen as “no important engineers died today,” but looking back through a week’s editions of the Times, no deaths were noted for engineers of any caliber. And I happen to know at least one prominent New York City engineer who died recently.
So who was considered worthy of an obituary this week? A radio sound effects man, a big band singer, a nurse, a writer, a surgeon, two baseball players, an illustrator, a clothes designer, a costume designer, a corporate president, a TV personality, a shoe designer, a restaurant owner, a country song writer, a producer, and a physicist. There were quite a number of people from all walks of life, it seemed, but no engineers.
Could it be no one notices engineers in life or death, even though the infrastructure that makes life work for all the other people whose deaths were recorded by the Times was planned, designed, built, maintained, and rehabilitated by engineers?
On my wall I have a poster from ACEC that says, “You can’t – drive to work, cook that pot roast, bake that cake, shower after jogging, watch 60 minutes, toast the bread, brew the coffee, call your mother, be cool in summer, wash your sweat suit, dine out, play computer games, medicate your colds, build your new house, listen to “ol’ blue eyes,” ride your bike, video that wedding, vacuum that rug, recycle your garbage, play baseball at night, be warm in the winter, fly to Hawaii, check the time, flush the toilet, buy a fresh tomato in winter, fill that cavity, use the cash machine, mail those letters – without an engineer.”
Engineers, though labeled trustworthy by the public, get virtually no respect or recognition for what we do. It’s probably our fault. We are by our training a modest group, we don’t look for glory, and it sure doesn’t seek us out.
This may be why infrastructure is taken for granted. We don’t publicize it, but it works and not only improves our way of life but is the basis for our way of life. Since we don’t publicize the importance of infrastructure, it is for the most part ignored; it falls behind other areas whose groups are more vocal in advocating for dollars. However, it is getting to the point that the American public can’t ignore its condition much longer as we have not invested adequately in our infrastructure for decades.
Several recent economic studies, including ASCE’s own, show that just investing at our present levels will seriously affect Americans’ way of life in the next two decades, with a decrease in our standard of living, a hit to our GDP, continued job losses, and additional costs to businesses.
Try as we might, how will we get the public to recognize the importance of engineers and infrastructure in their daily lives? We can’t even get The New York Times to notice that an engineer died.
I welcome your reactions and suggestions in the comments below.