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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Consumerism Hinders Scientific Problem Solving

By Chris Brockway

Today’s column is dedicated to all those students who are now cramming, stressing and otherwise cursing themselves over the work and studying they should have been doing all semester.

This column is dedicated to the procrastinators.

If you are reading this now, there’s a good chance that you’re procrastinating. You know who you are. Like the junkie returning to his fix, you’re feeding the beast, procrastinating until the very last minute when you absolutely, without a doubt, have to do your work.

At least you’re not alone though. Looking around, it’s easy to find examples of procrastination?it’s more popular than Olympic pins. Just like *NSync, however, the fact that everybody’s into it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. The very institutions that keep our country together are a prime example. Back in New York, legislators are in the habit now of passing the latest budgets in the nation?generally three to four months late?even though this costs the state millions of dollars every day. In Washington, D.C., politicians are still dancing around the oil issue, and now that Arctic drilling has been voted down, they’re thinking it might have been a good idea to pass that far overdue increase in vehicle gas efficiency.

Oh well. We’re hooked on foreign oil for another couple of years. In Utah, even though the air gets dirtier every year, it may even take us rivaling L.A. before we make a serious effort at cleaning things up. Let’s just wait a little longer.

Undeniably, procrastination permeates our culture. Can we really blame ourselves for our tardy ways, though? After all, they’re just human nature. The appeal is revealed by the classic old saying, “Hard work pays off later. Laziness pays off now.” Wise indeed.

Oddly, there are those who fly in the face of this nature of ours, and get things done ahead of time, and even push ahead faster than necessary. Who are these masked men and women? Actually, many of them are in the tech business.

Science and technology push ahead appreciably faster than government and individuals, even though they are created by individuals and monitored by the government. What is their secret? If you think about human curiosity and human desires, it becomes apparent. We want cool stuff. We want a palm pilot even though we could write in a notebook. We desire a new computer even though our old one works just fine. And we feel that we need the newest video game system even though we have plenty of fun with our old one. This is what drives technology? the consumer society hungry for the latest and greatest fad to appear.

This stands in contrast to our common perception of the scientific community as a brain trust that sits around working on A-bombs, cold fusion and stopping global warming. Yet scientists have to fit into the market structure like everybody else, which turns our perception of them upside down. It means that some of our best and brightest minds are devoting their time, indeed their lives, to creating new video games and coming up with catchy new rings for your cell phone. And they push the envelope every day, trying to stay ahead of the competition by developing the newest, coolest stuff.

It can’t help but make you wonder what we’d be capable of as a society if those scientists whom we entrust with our “serious” problems were engendered with that same drive, passion and sense of urgency. Or maybe if we had droves of them working on a cure for cancer or solution to pollution rather than your latest palm pilot., then we’d be living in a real utopia. For better or for worse, though, many scientific types spend their time working on products that simply distract us from the problems in our world, leading us inevitably to put those issues off?to procrastinate.

Is there a way to harness scientists’ potential and apply it to the world’s problems with the same urgency with which they’re turning out new stuff? Perhaps there is, if we can unite market ideas to practical products that actually address our problems.

One scientist just perfected the design of one of the smallest hydrogen engines in the world. A lot of people say “that’s great, but what’s it to us?” Well, why not throw it on a scooter and sell it as an eco-friendly ride? There are a slew of discoveries and inventions like this just waiting for the right marketing opportunity. If we could capitalize on all of them, imagine the net effect we would have!

This is no small task. As these products will obviously require markets, it requires us as a society to shift our ideas of what is “in” and what is not. Would you buy a hydrogen-powered scooter? Recycled pants? Even if you didn’t buy them for their intrinsic value, you might be willing to fork out the dough if they were marketed in the right way. Technology cannot just stand by itself?even though there are cars out there that get 70 miles per gallon and have super-ultra-low emissions, they are not big sellers. They are just waiting for the right sales pitch, the right trend in trends before they can truly take off. A marriage of smart marketing and technology is essential to working out some of our world’s problems, by bringing the best minds to where the money is.

Cris welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].

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