Why We Invest More In Technology That Entertains Us Than The Kind That Can Save Our Lives
When it comes to new developments in technology, there have been a few interesting articles across the web lately that have caught the eye. Though news of big money acquisitions and IPOs has dominated most headlines, it has been particularly interesting to follow the emergence of "wearables," as tech sites across the country cover the progress of their development step by step.
Whether it be with smart watches or smart glasses, the manner in which companies have developed ways to bring the Internet from out of our pockets and onto our skin has been truly remarkable.
Between them, the tasks these wearables can accomplish range from syncing with mobile devices to reading of messages that can be prompted by voice commands. There are other features, of course, too many for this only mildly interested observer to name, but there's one thing the advent of wearables has accomplished that stands out more than anything else.
They have proved there are truly no limits to which humans will go -- no blood, sweat and tears that will be spared -- to build technology that is, at best, slightly more convenient than others and, at worst, totally and completely unnecessary.
Don't get me wrong, the concept of wearables, in itself, is pretty cool. But it feels strange to live in a world where the ozone layer, which is supposed to protect us from dangerous UV rays that can literally kill us all, is being ripped into every day and the best technological advances we can come up with are those that enable us to check emails faster.
Usually an article that has a title prefaced by the word "why" explains the proceeding subject. In this case, we're questioning it out of agitation. The NSA watches everything we do, yet we can still lose a plane in 2014. We've created games that don't require controllers, apps that can order taxis to our doors, phones that can read our thumbprints and ways to make banking transactions without tellers. Great, now where are the renewable energy sources? Where are the innovations that can actually make the world a better place?
If there seems to be a lack of meaningful technology in the world, most of the blame has to fall at the feet of the powers that be. Though no direct accusations can be made, almost every story line out there suggests that ideas that can better society are, more often than not, met with pushback rather than support.
In California, where venture capitalists spent billions of dollars backing profitless companies during the tech bubble of the early 2000s, towns are just getting to constructing plants that can desalinate ocean water, which is no small deal for areas that can experience drought. The project, which will pour 50 million gallons of desalinated, fresh water daily to an area of 3.1 million people comes at a price tag of $1 billion.
The price, moreover, might seem steep, if elsewhere in California Google hadn't paid $3.2 billion to acquire Nest, a company which makes automated thermometers. Therein lies the most frustrating aspect of this discussion. The costs of developing technologies that have more of a significant social impact seem no more expensive than the figures being thrown around for the most random of entities.
Breathometer, a company that has created a mobile app that works with a companion device so that users can check to see if they are legally drunk before getting behind the wheel and potentially killing someone, had to resort itself to appearing on ABC's hit show, "Shark Tank," for investment. There, it raised $1 million before two venture capital firms added another million last October. Meanwhile, Candy Crush is prepared to hit the stock market, with its parent company, King, set to be valued at well over $5 billion.
Where there aren't investors prioritizing addictive games over saving lives, there are governments holding back companies that are trying to make a difference.
The New York Metropolitan area is one of the most polluted in the country, a place where one journalist can't walk to work without feeling like a few days have been taken away from his life. Yet, New Jersey has just banned the one notable car-maker that is environment-friendly, with the Empire State set to follow.
As the Washington Post's Justin Brady pointed out, it's a move that reeks of lobbyist-influenced politics.
"My personal opinion is that this is more a case of bigger car companies trying to subdue a new flashy competitor," Brady wrote.
And when our politicians do seem to back good ideas, it's done at a snail's pace and on a small scale. In 2012, the Department of Agriculture gave a $105 million loan guarantee to Fulcrum BioEnergy. Instead of using widespread practices like incineration, which releases harmful toxins into the atmosphere, Fulcrum would use the money to build a plant that uses Plasma Gasification, a process that turns household waste into reusable gas. The plant would process 400 tons of waste daily, a tremendous development, but one that is hardly wide spread.
Time is no excuse, either. These methods haven't sprung up out of nowhere. The technology behind Plasma Gasification has been around for decades. As for the technology being used in California for desalination? It was discovered in 1980. The reasons for not getting behind such ideas are the same as usual. They were either too expensive or too "energy-intensive."
It's a stance that contradicts the ideology applied to practically every other frivolous innovation that has been developed. When it comes to certain ideas -- take any popular, revenue-less app -- they are backed and refined on-the-go, provided there are enough good ideas behind them. When it comes to things like desalination and Plasma Gasification, it seems as if the plans for developing them have to be air-tight before the same bureaucrats who proclaim global warming to be a myth can support it.
As cynical as it may seem, nearly every juxtaposition -- ever comparison and every narrative -- points to one answer when it comes to answering the question of the hour. Relative to the amount of innovations that have been made possible by the advancement of technology, nothing truly meaningful ever seems to be created -- certainly not enough to justify the complacency and apathy with which real world problems are approached.
Why hasn't technology done more for the world? If there's any one reason why, it's because the vast majority of the 1 percent and the politicians who serve to protect them are simply not interested in it.
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