Our everyday worlds are so full of the latest gadget reviews, so full of the latest computer parts, the best ways to automate our always-digitizing lives. I realize that technology has quickly become, almost exclusively, associated with the updating and upgrading of last year’s models. There’s a newer flashier version almost every week and each new product competes with last week’s model, to the point where a phone that’s a few months old seems outdated, obsolete even, in comparison to the recently released. Since when was a field so ripe with innovation and progress, turned into a series of advertisements and corporate rivalries?
I looked up technology on the Oxford English Dictionary and it said it was, “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.” I felt my heart drop a little, it was disappointing to see a resource so academically revered for its accuracy and reputation define one of our most important industries as expansive as a hammer, steel-toed boots or a chair. While looking over at a “less trusted” resource, Wikipedia, I found they had nailed it: the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organizations, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. I know what you’re thinking, Wikipedia’s definition is the same as the OED, just longer and wordier. Except that it’s Wikipedia’s description and inclusion of the fundamental characteristics of innovation, curiosity and achievement that encompass such an expansive term. Technology is not only science and it is not only practical. The famous British Explorer George Mallory, before embarking on his quest to climb Mount Everest in the 1920s, was asked “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” He responded with “because it’s there.”
While technology isn’t always clear in its goals, it is clear in its efforts to progress. Why progress? Because we can, because we have, and because we have to.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
While this speech was written more than half a century ago, it still showcases the value and range of technology. Perhaps some of those inventions were practical and some of them weren’t but they were all evolutions of the human condition; efforts that improved in leaps and bounds our quality of life. There was a hunger to achieve and master and learn, there was a dream to wonder and speak of the impossible with confidence, and so the spark was lit. We used to talk of inventions in amazement at human potential, and hope one day we could be a part of that world. Do you remember the first time you connected to the internet via broadband, leaving your dialup for good? When you powered on your first computer and the screen lit up with just a blinking cursor, or when you turned on your first car and heard the roar of the engine knowing your only limitations were the ends of the Earth? That for me is technology; a bottle opener, a water purification system that costs pennies, a tiny rectangle that can hold thousands of songs filled to max just because, ordering chocolates from London because my Mom was craving them or sitting on a chair and flying across the world in a matter of hours. Think about that last one for a second. Do you realize that only 70 years ago, it would have been unimaginable to say you visited Canada, America, Mexico, Spain, England, Italy, Egypt, Russia, China and Australia in one lifetime, let alone a month?
As a kid growing up in a relatively technologically savvy family, I saw firsthand the evolution of ideas. Do you remember a time without medicine? Probably not, otherwise you likely wouldn’t be reading this, on account of catching the plague. Do you remember when most news came from the newspaper? When communication skills were based on person-to-person interaction and not courteous texting skills? (I read an actual article on improving communication via text messaging). The one I’ve noticed the most was the World Wide Web. Do you remember AltaVista? The original Google homepage? Life before Facebook or social networking? MSN messenger? ICQ? I remember my dad telling me that the internet was the advancement of a lifetime; that information from around the world was at our fingertips in a manner minutes. It was still new so I chose to spend my time outside in the sun, running around, doing some sort of physical exercise, or playing with my toys.
I think most of you will be able to remember the internet as a kid, watching our parents speak with sparkles in their eyes about the potential of being connected whenever we wanted to be. I think that technology as a whole has come a long long way in a very short time but the rise of innovation is slowing down. We are starting to see less and less because, I believe, the state of technology today is beyond our years. We are running out of the capability to continue on at this speed; we have effectively, almost, reached burn out. While that is not to say, at all, that innovation or invention is dead, quite the contrary, it is to say that our imaginations are so filled with potential and ideas that our abilities need to catch up. Which is why, for the time being, we are going to have to settle for corporate bashing and ever-intrusive marketing.
I just want to end off with another line from the speech I quoted before. The speech that encompassed our love and drive for excellence and amazement.
As he stood there basking in the glory bestowed upon him, the countless eyes soaking every word he spoke, he paused for just a second, looked down at his paper, knowing this was the moment that would change everything. With his most powerful declaration, John F. Kennedy declared:
“We choose to go to the moon.”