During the years from around 4th grade through the middle of college, I was a little bit of a science and technology geek. The first magazines I remember reading were Popular Mechanics and Popular Science; in fact, I had subscriptions to both. I also loved cars and regularly read Motor Trend Magazine.
If you were a kid in the 1960s and early 70s it was hard to not be interested in technology because every other day there was some new development connected to the ‘space race.’ The USA and the old Soviet Union were trying to one-up each other with achievements beyond the atmosphere. The USSR got a human into orbit first but the USA beat them to the moon. Fear of war drove that competition but now America and Russia are partners in the international space station.
Significant technological development resulted from space flight, in everything from computers to communication to miniaturization to fire-retardant clothing to health. Engineering, math, chemistry and electronics were popular college majors. America led the world in technological innovation and America’s universities had the best and biggest science programs.
Decades later, however, fewer American students chose science majors and many more students from other countries came here to study in our great universities. Yet another shift is occurring now: fewer American universities offer programs in science. In other words, other countries have taken the lead in available programs as well as student interest. Put more simply: we’re falling behind. Add science to the list of things being outsourced.
Science is on my mind this week because of a conversation I had with the organizer of the USA Science and Technology Festival, an event coming to Washington DC next week. Larry Bock and his partners and sponsors are trying to generate renewed interest in science and technology among American youth. I was initially reluctant to include him on the one of my radio shows that is non-commercial because I suspected this event was all about selling something. The main thing that changed my mind … his sponsor list includes Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Magazines. I’m serious.
And after talking with him for twenty minutes, I believe he is sincere in his goal.
Apparently the festival is very hands-on and utilizes technological innovations in music and entertainment as part of the connection between science and youth. Young Americans grew up with technology and are totally comfortable with it but fewer of them are interested in what makes this stuff work. Can a festival held mostly on the National Mall in DC turn things around? That’s a hard question to answer but his first festival, held in San Diego eighteen months ago, drew 250,000 people. This one could attract a whole lot more as well as the media attention that most large gatherings in Washington draws.
My own interest in science and technology never stopped. I chose other paths in my life but I still pay attention to innovation and I am still fascinated by how things work. I regularly watch Modern Marvels on the History Channel and today I bought the latest issue of Popular Mechanics. After I publish this post I am going to read about earthquake-proof buildings, curing cancer, affordable solar energy, kick-ass pickup trucks that get decent gas mileage, the Xbox backpack and a soccer ball that can power LED lights.
Yes, I am still a geek.