Sunday, October 09, 2005

EinsteinFest: Hookless, Horseless, Wireless

Why did it take longer to develop an industrial-strength zipper than the airplane? Robert Friedel’s lecture “New Technologies and Inventions of Space and Time” at EinsteinFest this morning asked that question in addition to presenting a plethora of new technologies from the turn of the 20th century.

If we think we are in a time of rapid technological change, then the situation was as tumultuous and fascinating in 1905. After all, there was the automobile, electric lights, massive maritime ships, flying machines, the wireless telegraph, moving pictures, and yes, the zipper. And yet all of these technologies are part of the fabric of 2005, at least in industrialized countries. We have come to accept them as commonplace.

But in our more curious moments, perhaps we do marvel just a little bit at how pressing a switch fills a room with light, or how lifting our eyes to a blue sky we are almost certain to see jet planes flying overhead, or how, when the mood strikes, we can grab some popcorn cooked in a bag in a microwave in a couple of minutes, put a shiny disk into a DVD player and watch a movie celebrating the pioneers who walked on the moon 36 years ago. Perhaps the X-ray from the dentist’s office of a cavity from too much popcorn and not enough flossing still amazes us. It’s less likely, but just maybe once in a while, we think about how unbelievably cool it is to get into a four-wheeled vehicle powered by the internal combustion engine, turn on the ignition, and drive a 100 miles in air conditioned or heated comfort with music from our MP3 player, downloaded from our computer, and now being piped through 6 separate speakers …awesome!

Personally, I think Thanksgiving should be as much about science and technology as it is about our natural world, wonderful as that is. Right now, as our family prepares to go out for our Thanksgiving meal, I’m feeling very thankful for the bounties of both nature and technology.

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