The Present and Future State of Science in Our Culture

When most people hear the words “world’s fair” or “international exposition” they probably think of the Unisphere in Queens, New York. For Canadians, maybe the Montreal Biosphere (formerly the American pavilion). And for some people, maybe even the Eiffel tower (did you know it was built for a world exhibition?) Thoughts of the past’s images of the future spring up. Flying cars, hovering buildings, and bright sunny skies every where you look. For the generation of people who very lucky enough to live at the time of the exhibitions, they served as iconic images, inspiration and hope for a better tomorrow. The things displayed at those and many other world fairs were the time’s cutting edge technology and hypotheses. It inspired an entire generation of people who wanted to reach the goal of that reality. Anyone you spoke to (so I’ve been told, I wouldn’t be born for another few decades) was buzzing about space travel, clean energy and probably a number of mind altering substances…but let’s just forget that last one for now.

I look around, and I wonder what happened to that wonder and amazement with what could be possible. Let me say this first, I am in constant wonder and amazement at everything around me. I make an effort to keep up to date and important discoveries and further educate my self. So I do get exposed to people who still hold that feeling. But, I think it’s safe to say that in general, society has seen a sharp decline in scientific interest. People constantly stay on the look out for the latest celebrity gossip, fashion, or melt downs. Now, there are many many people who stay up to date on technology. That’s great right? Technology comes from science. But the sad part of it is that they have no interest in how the technology comes about, simply what it’s going to do for them. So why aren’t people today as optimistic and excited about science as they were 40 years ago? I’ve heard people say that it was just because of those amazing expos I was talking about earlier. This generation hasn’t had those and so doesn’t get that fascination. but that simply isn’t true. Few people realize that those expos and fairs still happen to this day every few years (I think in an earlier post I incorrectly stated every five years) all over the world. Beyond that, we don’t need them anyways. Sure a science centre may not be  as big a news story, or invoke as strong a feeling as The New York World’s Fair, but take a day to go see one. They are filled with things beyond your imagination which will leave you in awe.

Here is where I personally think the problem lies. I recall an episode of the Jetsons where some of the automation had broken down. Instead of simply sitting at a desk, George Jetson had to go to the trouble of manually pushing buttons to instruct the robots what to do. Sounds pretty easy for us right? But in their futuristic world where everything was done for them, that was a hard day’s manual labour! George was exhausted and hardly able to reach over and push the last button of the day. But that was the world promised to the generations who saw the World’s Fair. A life of leisure where robots did all the work and we’d just have to sit back and relax. And so that generation strived for that life, to give that life to their kids. Which they did. We all want to be able to give our loved ones everything their hearts desire. But in doing so many children have grown into a mind set of entitlement and ignorance. I firmly believe that the past 3 or 4 generations have snowballed this effect. When  one parent is given everything, they want to give their offspring everything. Who can blame them? I get it. But when you take the world for granted and ipods, computers and cars are handed to you, where does the curiosity go? In a life of leisure why should I know how these things work? There are people paid to do that. I can now spend my time living vicariously through those who truly “have it all”. And what easier way to do it than with all this technology at my finger tips? I think we as a society need to change this snowball effect before it is out of control. And maybe, just maybe we’re starting to do that…

It bugs me to see people (and I admit, sometimes I’m judging before I get to know people) who go on about climate change, or endangered animals, or the evolutionary debate, or a lunar eclipse without understanding the importance and actual science behind it, just because it’s the latest trend. It annoys me to no end and even though I support the cause, it makes me want to distance my self from them. But sometimes I need to take a step back and look at the larger picture. I could sit here and assume reasons why I got a flood of people who don’t know the difference between a solar and lunar eclipse, posting about the [disappointment of a] lunar eclipse a few months back. Maybe I have a hidden hipster in me that was saying “I was excited about this thing 10 months ago before it was cool and you just heard about it on the news last night…” But whatever the reason, I realized eventually it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are at least taking a small interest in these things. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Maybe some of those people actually gain a genuine interest in climate change and want to learn more about it. Suddenly their excited and passionate about science. They start talking to friends, family and social media and that excitement spreads. Before you know it it’s trending. People are forgetting what Kim Kardashian wore to the Oscars and they’re looking at proposals and ideas to stop the warming of the Earth. So for anyone who feels the same, ya, maybe science being a “cool” thing is annoying, but remember that this could be the start of it becoming the buzz that it once was for people the world over.

To that note, I hope that I can reach more people through this blog…those close to me have commented that when I get passionate about something it can be infectious. I think that’s true for anyone who’s truly passionate about anything. Regardless, I’ve seen how my love of science has effected my girlfriend and my family, so maybe I can have that effect on everyone reading this as well. If this does tickle you a bit in your science pants, then please, run with it! Go look up something new, take a trip to a museum, watch a documentary, or talk to a scientist (hell, talk to anyone! Anything they can teach you is valuable!). Ignite your own passion for science and let it spread too. And maybe one day in the near future that vision of floating cities in the clear sunny sky and awesome looking rocket ships will be a reality.

 

Afterthought: I’ve been thinking since I posted this, I may have been a little pessimistic…there are other signs that we may be able to get interest back in science. I feel like I should give credit to things like the Planetary Society’s Light Sail, which is the most successful crowd funded project ever (and I was a proud part of that!). As well, we recently got to see the New Horizons flyby of Pluto! Now, similar to the eclipse, I heard a lot of people all excited who didn’t know a damn thing about New Horizon before that, or where it’s going next. But again, it got people excited about space travel and exploration. I was also lucky enough recently to see Neil deGrasse Tyson speak in Toronto (thank you to my amazing girlfriend for the tickets!) and it was great to hear that they had to book a second show because the first one sold out! Even in a large city/area, it’s still good to see so many people taking an active interest in science. So ya, I get annoyed with ignorance sometimes, but there are signs that  world wide passion for science is just around the corner again. The future may be bright indeed.

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