Today’s technology is more powerful than ever, and has opened up vast new channels for sharing and exploring new ideas. Everyone has a voice, and content has exploded on topics from the meaningful to the cute but perhaps mundane (see 19 photos of dogs playing in snow from our friends at Buzzfeed). Just while writing this blog, I’ve found myself distracted about 15 times by content across the internet. And I know I’m not alone here. It leads me to wonder, with social media and everything it brings, where are we headed as a society? And is it good for us, or will it serve as a distraction from the meaningful, and cause us to struggle to find the next advancement in science and technology? Are we distracting ourselves, both as producers and consumers?
Not more than a generation or two ago, our country’s brightest minds set out to work on some of the most challenging and complex problems man’s imagination could think up. In the span of a decade from about 1963 to 1972, the Apollo program accomplished more to advance science than anything else in human history. With its singular focus, NASA amazed the nation (and the world) as the first men walked on the moon.
Since that time, advances in computing have provided us the internet and given us access to new capabilities that those NASA scientists could only dream of. Some advances have been nothing short of life-altering. The cell phone (ie smart phone) and the many tools it offers have transformed the world. Emergency services have improved, remote villagers have established text-message based banking, and countless conveniences have emerged in every day life (my favorite is, without question, Amazon Prime). But can we be doing better?
What value do we get from 140 characters? Why do we allow ourselves to be consumed by these quick bits of information? And why have so many bright people been incentivized to produce for these companies that only add to the endless ways to consume information? It seems every smart engineer is trying to capitalize on the astronomical valuations of these companies. There’s even the term Unicorn for some of these companies that have a $1Bn valuation (and often not a single dollar of profit). I hope we can innovate again in the real world and not just online. Fortunately, some visionary entrepreneurs are starting to rethink what innovation means, and we’re seeing a re-introduction of creative, risk-taking ventures that may bring a dialogue on what it means to be innovative. SpaceX and BlueOrigin are just two of those companies, whose celebrity founders (Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos) are setting the stage to bring the digital and real world back together again.
In the weeks ahead, I hope we can explore what social media has done for us as a society, both good and bad. I hope we can explore the rabbit holes we often find ourselves in while online. I hope we can connect how social media relates to (and will have an impact on) advances in other fields. And I firmly hope we can learn as a society how to be responsible consumers of these media.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a video of the launch of the first reusable rocket to successfully land following a launch.