Technology is always advancing and making life easier, safer and healthier but there are often unexpected consequences that come with progress.
… And Now
Fellow blogger Ron Byrnes over at his Pressing Pause website had an interesting post about futuristic products. The products were on a list in a NY Times magazine article entitled “32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow”. After reviewing the list I thought I’d share some thoughts on some of these and then make a point about one of the consequences of building a better mousetrap.
From the technology that gave us video games and the resulting sedentary lifestyles that ruin our health comes a product intended to get us back into the game, so to speak.
There’s the underwear “embedded with electromyographic sensors that tell you how hard you’re working your quadriceps, hamstring and gluteus muscles.” This information can be sent to your computer or Ipad with the intent to motivate you to get off of your dead ass when you see how flabby and weak you’re becoming. Though this has great benefits for athletic and healthy-minded people, it is less likely to be used by those who really need some motivation to lay the video games down and get outside, absorb some natural Vitamin D and improve muscle tone from reality based games.
However, regardless if you exercise or not, a recent study shows that because most people’s muscles are inactive about 70 per cent of the day, health issues can still result. Moving about is key here. If you routinely engage in daily fitness training but have a job that keeps you behind a desk all day you are not much more likely to improve muscle tone than a gamer who moves a round quite bit between games.
Another inspired idea on this list is the adaptive cruise control (A.C.C.) — which automatically maintains a set distance behind a car and the vehicle in front of it. The idea is to prevent people from running up on someone’s tail during peak traffic times, only to hit their breaks when they get to close which has a domino effect on those behind them. Voila! Unnecessary traffic congestion. Cars installed with the ACC device keeps drivers evenly paced and avoiding tapping the brakes allowing motion to remain constant and smooth. Of course this doesn’t prevent someone from yelling obscenities at the slower driver, so the next futuristic device could come into play here - the Speech Jammer.
When the Speech Jammer is aimed at someone screeching expletives or other nonsense “it records that person’s voice and plays it back to him with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This seems to gum up the brain’s cognitive processes — a phenomenon known as delayed auditory feedback — and can painlessly render the person unable to speak”.
This device however may have the potential for even greater abuse. Something tells me an insensitive husband might use this device inappropriately when his wife is laying her heart out about their relationship. A likely news headline could read, “Husband killed by spouse with speech altering device”.
The last innovation I wanted to bring attention to on this list is the idea of play ground equipment that pushes the envelope for kids. If they are the type that you’ve finally gotten off of the video games and outdoors, this may prove to be too much too soon. On the other hand, it could resemble some of the fantasy landscapes that challenge them on their video screens. Leif Kennair and Ellen Sandseter’s ideas suggest that “instead of short climbing walls, there should be towering monkey bars. Instead of plastic crawl tubes, there should be tall, steep slides. And balance beams. And rope swings. The rationale is that the more we shield children from potential scrapes and sprained ankles, the more unprepared they’ll be for real risk as adults, and the less aware they’ll be of their surroundings.” This may be especially beneficial to kids who are raised in violent, dysfunctional homes.
However, I’m not sure such suggestions will find acceptance amongst over-protective parents who currently armor plate their kids when riding bikes or skate boarding. Then there are the insurance companies and city attorneys who will want to protect themselves and block such efforts.
Technological advances are harbingers of man’s evolution. Each new creation pushes us toward a future where some idealistic life will no longer experience suffering and pain or want. From one perspective it also shows how our lives seem to fall short of some sense of perfection The notion that the grass is always greener over the hill is dangled before us. Our humanity tends to become less evinced by physical interaction, customs and spirituality and more played out in what we possess in material terms.
Any invention that improves our life however isn’t always for the better. The ideas above are attempts to adapt to lifestyles that have made our lives more challenging from previous technology like video games, TV’s and automobiles and the manufacturing processes that produce such goods. It’s a junk-in/junk-out cycle. For everything we create to make life better or more fun we have to offset the negative side effects with other new technology. Ultimately though, most of this consumption to make the new technology wounds up depleting the limited available resources we have on this finite planet, tossing them when we tire of them into already overloaded landfills.
Innovation however need not always deal with consumption and waste. A partial solution to this may be along the line of thinking of Harvard bioengineer David Edwards. David has devised a way to convert foods into shell-like containers and films that he calls Wikicells. Wikicells are edible packaging for food items like the skin of an apple that can be washed and eaten along with the contents or disposed of like an orange peeling that’s biodegradable.
Similarly a biodegradable casket or burial shroud will break down quickly and harmlessly become part of the earth, an economical and practical solution as land for cemeteries are becoming less available. In one year, “22,500 cemeteries across the US buried 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, 104,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods and 1.6 million tons of concrete. In purely ecological terms, how we bury our dead is unsustainable.”
Clearly we need to look beyond our urge and need to find new and better ways to improve the quality of life on our planet for all people by insuring that what we do create doesn’t rapidly deplete resources and inundate habitable areas with vast quantities of waste that will prevent future generations from living the life most of us have enjoyed.