This week’s main essay at A-Clue.Com tackles the issue of American technology, and whether it has a future.
There are many reasons for this:
- Technology is no longer a popular field of study.
- Government privacy policies discourage Always-On development.
- Telephone and cable duopolies restrict Internet growth.
- China now controls our hardware market.
- The hottest new innovations, pharmaceuticals and nanotech, cost more to develop.
All these problems can be easily fixed. And we retain many strengths. I recently saw a story from Europe complaining of how open source projects are moving to the U.S. at the behest of their venture capital investors. American universities continue to innovate, including my own alma mater.
But the biggest problem remains the first, technology education.
When I started in this business over 20 years ago most of the people I met were close to my age, and that was good. Now they’re still close to my age, and that’s not as good. Nothing against you old codgers (me, I’m eternally youthful) but the fact is you need a good mix of ages to succeed, just as on a ball team.
Most scientists accomplish their greatest breakthroughs before age 30, and afterward plow ground similar to where they have already been. This is true in most fields. A young mind can jump out of the box more easily than an old one, because they haven’t built their own box yet. Once you do build a box, you’re boxed-in.
This doesn’t mean you only build with young people. Young people often don’t know how to get to market. They don’t know how to build the infrastructures necessary for success. They don’t see the historical failure points and avoid them naturally, the way older people do.
Still, it hurts for our technology workforce to be so old. Neither of my kids have any interest in technology, except as users. My son plays learning games on his PC all day, but shows no interest in how they’re designed. My daughter is more interested in art and animals and the physical world than in anything related to the world of abstract ideas.
Where are young people today? A lot of them are in the military. Or they’re trying to get slots in corporate America. Instead of trying to build a new world they’re trying to fit into the old one.
This isn’t true in India, or China, or even Brazil. There I see
young people launching new companies, trying new things, getting
heavily involved in technology at ever-younger ages.
Mainly because they’re encouraged to do so.
Our kids aren’t, and this is a growing problem. We can easily fix
our privacy policies, and our antitrust law. We have the capital needed
to make the expense of nanotech a strategic advantage. But we need
America’s best young minds to desire change, demand change, and create
change, or else change will continue to come slowly.
Sure, Washington deserves some blame. But we deserve some, too, as
individuals. We trail badly in math skills, especialy in the crucial
middle school years, and as a result the kids who aren’t heading to
elite schools in this country are headed nowhere.
Some of this will change naturally as policies change. A government
policy that encourages technological innovation and excitement is going
to attract a lot of bright young minds. This was true in the 1960s, and
it was true in the 1990s. Big projects lead to big innovations, and
we’re going to need big projects in order to save the world for the
But we can do more, as individuals, right now, to get ready for these changes:
- We need simple, fun, interactive courses that teach young people programming basics.
- We need programs that make science and math fun, especially for middle school kids.
- We need contests that will validate the work of geeks, which can start on a local level.
The best thing going for us right now, as I’ve said many times, is
US First, the robotics competition launched by
Dean Kamen. But we can do more. We need to build alumni groups of First
kids. We need to extend the program more forcefully down to middle
schools. We need to have challenges in other areas of technology as
well – Internet technology and biotechnology and environmental
The time has come, in other words, to teach, to mentor, and to pass
on what we know so our children can save this wretched Earth from the
mess we have made of it.