We live in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world. This constant desire to connect with one another is most clearly revealed in large numbers of people across the globe using social media. Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, enable people across the world to connect with one another in meaningful ways. Mark Zuckerberg, a computer scientist and programmer, has produced a virtual world that it is difficult for us to imagine not existing in our society today. Although Facebook enables human beings to make virtual journeys and connections, our ability to connect tangibly with each other would be severely strained if we did not have roads, bridges, canals, dams, buildings, trains and airplanes. Civil engineers are responsible for producing the physical and naturally built environment. Whereas social media platforms equip us to connect socially and economically through a virtual, non-tangible milieu, civil engineers allows us to connect through physical and naturally built mediums. Without civil engineers, our economic and social relations would be tremendously limited.
Although civil engineers were important before the evolution of capitalism, the today’s reality we experience could not be possible without them. It heavily depends on our ability to interact socially and economically with one another not only in virtual spaces, but also in physical environments. Civil engineers create the machinery to produce most of the capital we currently buy, sell and exchange inside and outside of America. In a time when we think about the various things that can be done electronically and virtually, we overlook the fact that it took a civil engineer to construct the materials to produce the electronic and technological devices we employ to do many of the things we enjoy. To have the type of economic prosperity present in America, there must physical and naturally built products, and consumers and producers need efficient and effective methods of travel to help commerce and expansion take place. The various modes of travel are products of civil engineers, thus demonstrating that civil engineers are pioneers and visionaries of capitalism. Most, if not all, of the economic and social transactions that take place today are impossible without physical and naturally built phenomena civil engineers generate and enable us to use.
To further explain the importance of civil engineers to our interdependent, interconnected and globally networked industrial society, it is essential to interview an actual civil engineer about their importance. Parrish Underwood, a civil engineer who works for Norfolk Southern Railroad Company, stated, “Civil engineers practically connect the world through every physical and naturally built thing there is in society today, and even in generations before our time—from roads, bridges, railroads, houses, skyscrapers, and many other structures. Without civil engineers, therefore, it is difficult to imagine the shape that this world would be in.” From Underwood’s interview, it becomes transparent that civil engineers have provided us with the framework to make the valuable economic and social connections we do. Our understanding of how to connect would be seriously hindered without civil engineers, especially the earliest civil engineers. They offer a physical and cognitive conception of connection. From the intellectual knowledge we gained from the concept of connection embedded in the design and construction of roads, bridges and buildings (and other physical and naturally built things), we developed sophisticated social and economic relations that inevitably led to the development of the interconnected and interdependent society we have.
In short, we need physical, social and economic connections to survive. Civil engineers have been indispensable in the evolution of those connections. By virtual connectedness alone, we cannot survive. While civil engineers inspired the idea of virtual connectedness, they also showed us that a productive and advanced civilization must have a strong foundational understanding of what it means to be connected. If we do not work together as a network, then we will all ultimately suffer tragic loss. Our survival is linked to our ability to become connected, stay connected and thrive connected.