Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Harry Potter Generation

The other day in the research office while we reconvened after lunch, our economics group somehow stumbled upon a conversation about the world my generation has been raised in. I believe that the conversation began with a sidetracked conversation of Harry Potter, but for what started as a funny comparison of experience of the millennials who were raised reading Harry Potter as children and Chris's experience of reading the series as a graduate student, soon became a reflection on 9/11, the Berlin Wall, and the other events that framed these two very different life perspectives. Oddly enough, this conversation is something I find essential to the nature of our interdisciplinary research. We are the generation of technology, supposed progress and immense industrialization. We are also the children shaped by a world of terrorism, increasing environmental degradation, financial crises, and an ever-diverging bipartisan political system. We are the generation marked by the fact that the first election we can legally take part in is one rooted in racism, international mockery, and a future widely unknown. All of these should terrify me more, but they do not because this is the world I know. I was handed this world as such, and for that I cannot change what has been done.

The point of this observation is not to be depressing- far from it actually. Rather, the fact that we were given such an industrialized, globalized, though slightly broken world has also had its advantages. It has raised a generation of young adults who see the world as an interconnected entity. Because of technology, we recognize the world as interdependent. Likewise, the world of academia has grown to reflect that sentiment. Sharing ideas between nations and academic fields is not only encouraged in today's society, but necessary. A large reason I chose my university and major was because of the interdisciplinary facet. And this is also what drew me to apply to the LAKES project.

The past week or so I have been able to engage in the other discipline's projects more fully. Thanks to the help of GIS we were able to measure the square feet of water-front property of the homes around the lakes we are analyzing in the hedonic pricing model, as well as measure the distance to the lakes and the lot sizes of these parcels. This is data that has never been collected by any other source, and it would have been impossible to do obtain without the help of the mapping tools and skills of the geography team. And in the process, I was lucky enough to get some tutorials and learn about the software itself. Who knew maps were so dang cool?

Additionally, the economists spent a day working with the math research team. Well, by "working with", I mean to say that they thoroughly (and patiently) explained their project, equations and graphs to us. While they were able to give me boundless information regarding their modeling of the diffusion and concentration of the cyanobacteria in the lake, we were able to ask them questions to help frame their work so as to be able to better relate it those not mathematically inclined. To ask human and interdisciplinary questions not only pushes each project further, but it creates more wholistic, detailed, and well-thought out results.

After working with mathematics in the morning, the anthropology team told us of their findings in an interview with a realtor who sells houses in the Lake Chetek area. We are creating a hedonic pricing model that will ultimately determine the value of lakefront houses on clean lakes (compared to houses on polluted lakes) to see how much increased clarity inflates the value value of a house. It is incredibly easy to reduce these values to mere numbers and statistics. But the anthropology team provides us with qualitative data that explains the housing market from a human perspective. It forces us to look at why certain variables move in certain directions beyond the scope of the programs themselves. Having a relator explain the market trends and explain how he sells and values homes with differing degrees of water quality helps us to better understand the market we are attempting to track. After all, economics is the study of human interactions, preferences, and choices, so adding a human voice to the project is invaluable.

This research project continues to push my academic and intellectual boundaries in not only the concentrated field of study of economics, but in multitudes of other areas. So yes, our generation knows only a world of confusion and struggle. But we are a generation willing to tackle these problems. A generation who sees the world as a whole and aims to solve these problems from multiple dimensions. After all, coming of age at the time of the current election has had its benefits; Donald Trump has taught us that it is closed-mindedness that stops most progress. Fear, hate, and conflict are the consequence of an unwillingness to see things from a differing perspective. They are the results of a resistance in working with those who are different from ourselves. And so it is this interdisciplinary nature of the LAKES project that represents something far more valuable and applicable than the scope of the Red Cedar Watershed.

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