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The other day, I saw a commercial on television for a new gizmo from the “i” people. This is what it can do: If a song is playing in the atmosphere around you, and you do not know its name but want to have it as your own, you can hold up your tiny machine into the ether and it will name the tune. Just like that. Raise the thing into the air as if you were a sailor assessing the wind, and poof…title, artist, musical xerox.

I do not understand why people would need or want this capability. I do not understand why people carry these pods, or whatever they are called, in their pockets, to begin with. When your ears are stopped up with metal, you can miss what is happening in front of you. You can trip on the sidewalk or fail to notice a mugger. Mostly, though, I can’t fathom why the technological energy and brainpower would be devoted to such an invention unless, say, it has ramifications elsewhere, you know, like with national security.

Speaking of national security, two seconds after I saw the advertisement with the man holding the song-snatching gadget over his skull, I heard on the news that the chance that the United States would be attacked by weapons of mass destruction some time in the next few years had increased. It will, no doubt, happen while music-loving Americans are pointing their pods to the heavens, like followers of some supreme deity. I am struck by the priorities some people set. Shouldn’t there be some unified effort—among government, educators, law enforcement, ditty duplicators—to keep the significant goals at the top of the list. Get to the moon first. Cure cancer. Keep biological, chemical and nuclear warfare at bay. My father, a surgeon, told me that if a career didn’t lead to saving a life, then it was silly. Arrogant, perhaps, but philosophically sound. If you are not around to dance to the music pulled from the skies, then what’s the point of being able to pull it.

Given the plummeting interest and performance among American school kids in math and science, and college students in fields such as engineering, I think that it would make sense to harness the talent we do have in specific ways that would protect and enhance our existence on Earth. This does not mean channeling Rihanna, as much as I love her. I think it means handing out assignments.  Computer people, you get to disrupt nuclear smuggling rings. Laboratory researchers, you work on technology to reduce the bioweapons threat. Governmental and other agencies, monitor and enforce treaties. Everyone else, be aware, volunteer, use your skills to play a part.

And if we want to groove a little while we’re saving the planet, how about pushing the button on the radio. 

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