What does our future hold?

Technology is more often than not thought of as good and beneficial. From the room-sized computers of the '70s to the handhelds of today that even high school students carry in the school hallways, technology has offered an upward swing of potential through its evolution. In a world of remote-everything, electronic-everything and digital-everything, many of us today have become dependent on the conveniences of technological advancement. It's just what happens. But technology, I'm afraid, can also have negative effects.

Case in point: While driving on the highway in Detroit recently, my eye caught one of those electronic billboards affixed to an overpass. Amber Alert, I thought. Or an accident report. Must read for awareness. Instead of reading valuable information on the board, I found myself trying to decipher digital scramblings and misplaced pixels. I nearly swerved my car off the freeway.

Case in point No. 2: In an age of fewer personal assistants and more electronic means of performing, we've become dependent on spellcheck in our computers. Like many of you, I've had to create a custom dictionary in mine to avoid the system not recognizing words like photogrammetry and geomatics, and acronyms like GIS and GPS (not to mention the spelling of my own name!). And years ago, although spellcheck performed its job, a document for POB contained a mention of a plumP bob. Albeit funny, the embarassment would have killed us!

And I don't think I have to give you any examples of how GPS has led amateurs to become "professional" land assessors with their Garmin handhelds from the local sporting goods store!

My point is that technology, while fantastic in so many ways, can be detrimental if not appropriately applied and analyzed for its intricacies. Not every day, no; that would defeat the purpose of its advancement at all. But to rely on technological improvements as the "end-all, be-all" of resolutions can be harmful. Just look at examples of computer viruses and hacking.

The negative impact of technology on the world can, perhaps, be further seen in the analysis of today's student skill levels. A couple of years ago, the National Geographic Society released a study indicating that a mere one in seven Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 could find Iraq on a map. And this is when the threat of war was upon us! Surveyed Americans received an overall grade of "D" for answering a series of geographic and current events questions. Top scores went to Sweden, followed by Germany and Italy. I won't pain you with other details of the study, but will include the fact that many Americans know where the island on the popular TV show "Survivor" is located.

The current national trends in reading, science and mathematics fluctuate, mostly slightly upward to be sure, but overall hover around average. Do we want to be average? With the innovation of LeapPads and talking globes, do parents spend less quality teaching time with their children, relying instead on these electronic devices? Perhaps not, perhaps this is not a detail to consider. But some action needs to be taken if we want our country's future leaders to be above average.

Tomorrow's Professionals

A few months before the National Geographic study, a weekly educational magazine cited that women account for less than 10 percent of the engineering workforce, and in fact had been discouraged to pursue science and technology interests. Intense efforts since then have tried to conquer this pattern that has continued for years. You've probably seen the GirlsGoTech ads with the little girl on a beach who scientifically explains to her father why the sky is blue. In 2002, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers sponsored summer camps for girls in an effort of encouragement into engineering. Of course, these efforts alone won't be enough; top quality lessons and direction must follow. Kids need nurturing in their environments, at home, in school and in work settings. But, without these initial efforts (assuming they help to some degree), where will our future professionals come from?

The same goes for this profession and all those associated. Although the tagline for the GirlsGoTech initiative is "It's her future. Do the math," it's really OUR future in their hands.

Because of the technological advancements of the past few decades, many more professional opportunities exist for today's youth. But will they be able to tell us which continent they live on, how to spell "integrity" or how many feet are in a yard?