Team:Amsterdam/Human practices/techno vignette

iGEM Amsterdam 2015

Techno-moral Vignettes

Where the Application Scenarios tackle our iGEM project’s real world future applications, Techno-moral vignettes are short narratives that involve demonstrating the potential wider impacts that application of our project would have on society. For our techno-moral vignettes we give an inside look on a world where our bio-refineries have become the norm on a multinational scale. Here we demonstrate the “soft impacts”, both positive and negative, that adoption of our biorefineries might have on such a world. To visualize this, we present the front page of a newspaper from this time. We also present two vastly different family narratives from different parts of the globe, both of which are directly affected by the news from this paper. Take your time to explore the vignettes we offer here to become deeper acquainted with the way our iGEM project could impact the world.

Newspaper Front Page

Family Narratives

A Family in Crisis

Melanie looked up from her coloring book to see her father plop firmly into his favorite armchair. Along with the house, the armchair has been in the family for generations.

“Hi Daddy!”

“Hey sweetheart. How was school?”

“Fun! We got twenty more minutes of recess today!” she exclaimed.

“That’s nice, did you get to play with ... uh ... what’s his name ... your friend, Billy?” John, her father, asked while opening todays newspaper. Newspapers were hardly in circulation anymore as most people living in the city preferred a virtual transmission of their choice news straight to their googlebot. But in rural areas such as Melanie’s, old traditions die hard. John still enjoyed reading the newspaper everyday after work hours around 6 pm - even though he was already retired. Although Melanie didn’t always quite understand, she loved to listen as her father and older brother discussed whatever awesome event happened that day miles away from her own little town.

“No daddy! Remember? Billy pulled my hair so I’m not talking to him anymore. We’re not friends until he says sorry!” She puffed as she faced back towards her colouring book.

As John read the front headline of the newspaper, a horrible scowl formed on his face. He audibly whispered mostly to himself, “What? No more Cloyster subsidized products?” John gripped the newspaper firmly, and continued reading. Melanie could see his facial expression dampen.

“What’s wrong?” Melanie asked.

“This could be quite problematic.” John sighed and sat back before continuing. “The government passed a bill causing everything made by Cloyster to be a lot more expensive for people living outside the city like us.”

“So? What’s the big deal?”

“Well sweetheart...You know ever since Cloyster settled in this country, we have become more and more dependent on them. They manufacture many of the everyday things that make life out here manageable; especially the cheap fuel that keeps us warm and powers are cars. Other sources of these things are no longer easily attainable as they were years ago and would be too expensive for daddy to pay for on such little savings. Unfortunately, Cloyster factories are only in places near water and lots of sunlight - much like the city. It seems the government no longer can subsidize for us folk living in the country-side. I fear that with this bill, we will have to re-evaluate some things…”

Before Melanie could ask what ‘subsidize’ meant, down the hall, someone opened the front door.

“Sean. That you?!” Melanie’s mother yelled from the kitchen.

“Yeah, mom it’s me. Where’s dad?”

“Talking with Melanie in the living room,” Melanie heard Sean’s frantic footsteps as he made his way into the small living room. Her face lit up at the sight of him.

“Sean! Did you bring me any donuts?” Melanie prodded.

“No, sorry Melanie. Not now,” he turned to face his father, “Don’t tell me you’re just reading the news now dad! I told you to get a googlebot! Everyone at work’s done nothing but talk about it.” Tom paced as he spoke. “I knew the bill would pass. I just knew it. And I told you it would pass, but no. You never take a thing I say seriously! Now look who was right! I was. And now you’re screwed. We’re screwed. There’s not a thing we could do about it now. What can we do? What will we do? What are we gonna do! Don’t just sit there say something dammit.” His father stared straight down at the newspaper sternly. Sean continued, “Tommie says their family’s been planning on this happenin’ for ages. They already got a place to crash in the city...”

Sean stopped pacing suddenly. He furrowed his eyebrows and carefully mulled something over in his head. His demeanor soon changed and his eyes were now bright with hope. “I think we should do that too. It’s about time we move to the city. We gotta start looking for a place now. No point in staying here anymore. I bet it won’t be too bad actually - the city that is. I never liked the idea, but hey! Who knows. Maybe we’ll like it - city life that is. Hearing people talkin’ about it at the Dunkin Donuts got me thinking. There’ll be plenty of sun and the beach wouldn’t be too far. I wouldn’t need to drive my Ho2 bike 20 minutes into town anymore. Yeah - this might be good for us! I’ll find a new job in the city, maybe even go back to school and get my GED. I could even - ”

“We’re staying”, John interrupted. All remnants of hope instantly drained from Sean’s face.

“What do you mean ‘we’re staying?’”

“Just what I said - ‘we’re staying’!”

“What do you mean we’re staying?” Sean repeated. “Staying. Where? Here? We can hardly afford life out here as it is!”

“We’ll figure it out.” At this, Sean boiled with anger.

“What do you mean ‘we’ll figure it out’, dad? Do you even know what you’re talkin about? How we gonna pay for Melanie’s school? How will we pay for heat? What about the fuel for my Ho2 bike? It’s completely powered by Cloyster made fuel! How about YOUR expensive medicine. Your pension won’t cover even half of our monthly expenses when the government subsidies stop!”

“We are not moving to the city and that’s final.”

Sean gaped at his father. Melanie had never seen him so angry. “What’s so special about this old house anyway,” Sean continued, “You’ve always been so against the city. I mean, I was too. I get it, it’s loud, and hectic. Cloyster and Ho2 ads everywhere. No chance to see the stars at night. But you’ve never even lived there - how do you know you won’t like it?”

“Our family’s lived in this house, in this town, since 2002. 2002! Believe me. Things were much worse back then than they are now! Please Sean, you’re only 17 - no need for you to go to the city. You’ll stay here, you’ll work, you’ll find a nice lady dumb enough to marry you, and you’ll all live here long after I’m dead. You and Melanie. If your folks back in 2002 were able to figure out life here, then so help me you’ll be able to figure it out as well.”

“Dad! It’s not about that! We can’t afford it. Are you blind?! There is NOTHING here for us!”

Melanie’s mother poked her head into the room, “Now what’s with all this ruckus. You’re upsetting poor Melanie!”

“Mommy, we’re moving to the city!” Melanie spoke up.

“We’re not. Jenn go back to the kitchen” John commanded.

“Yes we are. Mom, tell dad he’s being stubborn” Sean fumed.

Jennifer, Melanie’s mom, probed, “What’s all this about now? Who’s moving to the city?”

“I swear, you two both live in the stone ages! If you had a googlebot you’d already know that the government is going to stop subsidizing Cloyster products for areas outside the city!”

“Say what now? The bill passed?”

“Tommie said prices for everything we need will go up 50%! FIFTY PERCENT MOM! We gotta move to the city or we won’t last here for long. Come winter time, heat will be ridiculously expensive. I won’t be able to afford my Ho2 bike anymore by just working at Dunkin Donuts!”

“Oh dear. That’s quite horrible isn’t it? This is why we should have a system like they have in Nigeria. You know? They got those independent bioreactors you can just use at home! State’s got no say in it. We live much too far from water and hardly get any sunlight, so that’s impossible here. You know, I actually wouldn’t mind moving over there.” Jennifer proclaimed.

“Yeah mom we couldn’t have that system like they got in Nigeria. There’s nothing but clouds out here! Besides we wouldn’t even need it because everything is … was subsidized

“But ... but Billy said in Nigeria, bad people are making bio-poisons!” Melanie peeked up, happy that she could finally add something to the conversation.

They all burst out laughing. Sean with tears in his eyes said, “Well don’t you know. Where’d Billy hear something like that from? What are they teaching first graders nowadays?”

“So you are still talking to Billy then, Melanie.” Melanie’s father laughed together with Sean.

“Well! He’s talking to me, but I’m not talking to him!” Melanie puffed and went on with her drawing. She was just putting the finishing touches to her Cloyster logo design assignment. Melanie was sure her design would win! It should at least beat Billy’s.

Chad Lake

Sunrise over Chad Lake was always Ted’s favorite part of the day. It was the one moment he could truly appreciate the sun’s beauty before succumbing to its scorching fury. It was almost 7 AM so he began making his way over to the Izu market. Every Sunday, Ted ventured to the market to purchase necessary supplies for his home-run business.

By the time Ted arrived, ten minutes before 7, the market was already teeming with vendors and clients. He shuffled past the merchants at the entrance while they called out to him: “Hey mister, don’t you wanna see our latest producer?”, “Try our new Coli extreme! I betcha it’s five times faster than the next guy!”, “Care to take home our JungleLove package? Just a drop and she’ll leave her husband for you!”, “What do you have powering your stove?” At this Ted chuckled. No one uses a BU reactor to heat only their stoves anymore. House-wide central air became standard more than 40 years ago.

He continued to waddle through the crowd amidst the bustling sounds of the marketplace till he reached his planned destination. Nothing had changed since last Sunday in this section commonly known as Med-town. Ted immediately found what he was looking for: an aspirin batch.

“When you get this?” He asked the vendor, trying to assess quality. The batch appeared newly made as the edges of it’s casing showed no indication of being inserted into a BU reactor. Through the see-through window on the the side of the case, the milky yellow of the Coli was visible. As expected, it appeared like it was in decent condition.

“It came just yesterday.”

“How much.”

“For you…10,000 Naira. That’s top quality Coli right there.”

Ted considered. “I’ll give you a thousand for it.”

“Kind sir, you want me to go broke? I can’t sell it for less than I got it for! I have kids to feed. Bills to pay. Fine, how about this. Three -”

Before the vendor could finish, a woman came and grabbed Ted by the arm pulling him away. “Ted don’t buy things from that guy. He’s a known smuggler. Gets his stuff from Niger, you’d have gotten arrested super quick.”

Ted faced his saviour, who turned out to be one of his nieces. “Ah thanks Josephin.” He didn’t mention that he already knew the guy was a smuggler and would have bought it anyway. That vendor usually had quality aspirin batches only to be found in other African countries. At a better price than the official stuff even.

“No problem. How’s the business?” Josephin responded.

“Good. Things are good. Just looking for a restock for two of my producers. I’ve been using my aspirin and melatonin batches months after their ‘expiration date’.” Ted didn’t think he really needed to replace the aspirin batch. But better safe than sorry.

“Ah nice. You know if you ever need a helping hand, I’m always - “

“Sorry Josephin, I’m actually in a hurry, would you excuse me.” Ted walked away before she could stop him. He’d grown expert at avoiding relatives who wanted to become best friends now that his apothecary had taken off.

Later that day, Ted was in his backyard helping Tina, his wife with the BU reactors.

“I’m telling you, it doesn’t work, Ted!” Tina, exclaimed.

“Really, the government needs to better regulate those Izu markets.” Ted sighed and threw the unproductive melatonin batch away.

“The government already endorses and certifies quality tested suppliers. You could, ya know, think before buying just anything! What a waste of money! How about buying it the official way instead of going to Izu. You know I hate that place”

This was the third time Ted had bought a batch of melatonin producing E. coli that proved to be ineffective. Thus lies the risk in purchasing batches anywhere not endorsed by the government. Never really know whether it’ll actually produce what it’s intended to.

“Come on Tina. Government endorsed suppliers always charge three times as much. Besides, twenty years ago Izu was just fine. We’ve been over this already. It’s the advent of new people from the all over Nigeria trying to take advantage of our prime location that is causing all the…all the riffraff to infiltrate Izu.” While he spoke, he helped his wife remove the old aspirin batch from one of their 20 BU reactors. “Yeah, actually, just the other day I heard of a family that came as far as Abuja to move here near Lake Chad. But this doesn’t matter. Even with all the newcomers, Izu still has the same quality vendors it always has. Must I remind you what we attribute our new Ho2 bike to?”

“Why do you always use this argument? Yes, I like that we finally have four Ho2 bikes. But is it really necessary to continue getting our supplies from Izu still?”

“Look here Tina, this is the last time I’m going over this. Ever since we made the correct choice to start producing and selling probiotics with our BU reactor, things have gotten so much better for us. Thanks to contribution of scientists and enthusiasts like me all over Nigeria, the type of products we can sell has diversified greatly.” Ted paused for a second to search for the recently purchased aspirin batch. Once he found it, he began to install it in the BU. “Since we started selling these simple products like probiotics and vitamins first, most people would rather come to us than other places.”

“You know that’s not why they come to us. They come to us because word gets around you are a healer that doesn’t use any of this reactor hocus-pocus like the stores do! Many of them have no idea where your products come from.”

“Well, be that as it may - we’re still much richer now than we were before! Most of our customers are hypocrites anyway. They’re fine with using BU to produce simple fertilizer and fuel for their Ho2 bikes and cars. But once it comes to medication they only want the ‘natural’ stuff. Well that’s exactly what we’re giving them!” Ted winked at his wife, who sighed and said,

“Ok, I give up for now. I’m gonna start making dinner.” Tina began to walk away, paused then turned to face her husband once more. “Just to make it clear. Although I complain a lot, I guess I’d still much rather prefer living here than deal with that Cloyster nonsense happening in the States.”