Friday, January 20, 2006

Pulling others to the leading edge

Those of us working with advanced technology, who push the frontiers of knowledge forward, take a lot of what we know for granted. We take our mathematical ability, our economic sensibility, or our personal responsibility as givens. It's always mind-boggling for me whenever I'm reminded that there are a lot of people worse off than I am.

Sometimes it seems like the best gains that I could possibly make by working in advanced technology to better the world are marginal, at best. The higher yield activity would be to reach people, care for them, educate them, and convince them to take better care of themselves.

If only Americans as a whole could be convinced to exercise consistently and to eat right, the impact on their health would be more substantial than if I were to discover the next wonder drug.

Rather than spending absurd amounts of time developing myself to understand ever more esoteric realms of knowledge, I could instead equip people to make a good living for themselves by working with kids who are behind in school.

We're in a service-oriented economy now. We've moved on from making physical goods. Just like manufacturing moved from cottage industries to mass production, we're stuck in an intellectual cottage industry right now and need to move on to mass production. In a knowledge economy, people are the greatest asset. It makes sense to invest in people.

I hesitate to use the phrase, but “social work” just may leave the world better off, on average, than advanced research projects. I'm not saying we should stop discovering and innovating, but rather that we should stop and look back once in a while to see if we can pull anyone else up with us.