Welcome to the Future

I was watching the television the other day and saw a new video from Brad Paisley entitled “Welcome to the Future”.  It’s a nice video and the general premise I believe is that we as Americans have been able to accomplish some pretty neat technological and social things over the years.

While I agree with that sentiment, I have to remind myself that sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.  You see, I have observed that Americans in general have what we call out here in the plains the “Herd Mentality”.  When something becomes “it” or “Hot” we all follow along which is fine, but we tend to completely block out anything else of relevance.

Take science for example.  When I was about 10 or 12 my mother had to go into the hospital for some surgery.  I don’t even recall what it was for now.  At that time, since I was under 15, I couldn’t go up to the room to see her, so when the rest of the family did, I had to stay down in the waiting room.  To keep me busy and out of trouble, my father took me into the gift shop and bought me the current issue of  “Popular Science”.  I read it from cover to cover.  The cover article was about the new “Revolutionary” Wankle rotary engine that Mazda was going to start selling.  While the Wankle never did fulfill it’s promise, that magazine started me off on a life long love of science and technology.  From it, I got my Novice license at the age of 15 and went on to a career in the Information Technology field.

That was in the 70’s and while there were many social uncertainties at the time, the country was in the midst of some heady times when it came to technology.  We were enjoying the success of the space program and the American auto industry was at it’s zenith.  No one doubted the technological superiority of the United States.  Somewhere along the line, what we wished for changed.

It may be cynicism that comes with old age, but it seems over the last 20 – 30 years what we wished for has changed.  When I look at the old videos of the world fairs and they were showing how this new technological gadget would make the house wifes life easier, it makes me wonder what happened.  It appears our focus has gone from “How to make the world a better place to live in”, to “how do we squeeze more profit out of what we have”.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist through and through.  It just seems that along the way, we lost our sense of responsibility to each other and the country.

A lot of research and capital has been put into fancy computer algorithms that allow the big Wall Street fat cats to rake in more millions each year, but we have not invested near that much in new technology that will improve our way of life the last 20 -30 years.  I read that the government’s actual increase investment in R&D is 2.3% right now.  That doesn’t even keep up with inflation.  You will say to me “Allen, I thought you were a capitalist, why should the government be investing in research”.  Well I will counter that history has shown us that with government  help, many new industries have been formed.  NASA is a prime example.  Billions of dollars of private investment came along with the government’s investment into NASA.

The private sector is even more to blame for our lack of progress.  We have become so obsessed with short term profits, most companies have cut R&D and the R&D that has produced viable products has been quickly shipped overseas for someone else to produce.  I was helping a fellow ham pick up a few tower sections the other day from a local manufacturer.  They were cleaning out a storage building and were going to just scrap the tower.  In that building were tons and tons of machinery.  Milling equipment and such.  It was all going to be scraped.  Production had been moved overseas.

So what does this have to do with Amateur Radio?  We have the ability to help lead our country back to it’s future.  Half of the jobs on Wall Street are gone.  This county is starting to find out that we can’t depend on a “Service Economy” alone.  We can’t be prosperous by living on other people’s work and innovation  forever.  If we as Hams work to  bring our craft to the new generation of kids growing up, maybe like that magazine did for me, we can rebuild our nation’s technological leadership.

Hams need to take a lead role in promoting math and science in today’s classroom.  Make sure our local clubs have strong training programs and exam sessions.  Promote ourselves in the community not just as backup emergency communications systems, but as educators and innovators.

If we do this, maybe when we welcome our children and grand children to the future, it will be what we thought it might be.

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