Archived Story

Do more with today’s technology

Published 12:42pm Friday, November 30, 2012

I read a news story Thursday morning that both inspired and troubled me.

A 15-year-old named Jack Andraka was recently awarded the $75,000 grand prize at the 2012 Intel International Fair for an astounding discovery in the field of cancer research.

Andraka began his research at age 14. After enduring almost 200 rejection letters, he finally found a lab and a professor willing to get behind the idea.

The end result is a dipstick type diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer that is, according to Andraka, 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and 400 times more sensitive than the current test for pancreatic cancer.

The story has been circulating for a while, as the Intel Science Fair was held in early May.

It isn’t hard to see how I find the story of a 14-year-old turning the medical research community upside-down inspiring. But the troubling part of this news items comes in a quote Andraka gave to a reporter on Tuesday.

National Public Radio correspondent Ari Shapiro reported Wednesday on a tidbit of advice from the 15-year-old reasearcher.

“Instead of Instagramming your food, use the Internet to improve your world!” Andraka said.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Instagram, it is an app for today’s smartphones that allows users to share photos with each other.

It’s like Facebook, except all you can really do is peruse, post or comment on photos.

The comment resonated with me, particularly because I am guilty of the exact Internet behavior Andraka described.

That is what began to trouble me.

The Internet is incredible. In its vast depths, there is more information that can be contained in all the world’s largest libraries. You can now meet face to face, in real time, with people on the opposite side of the world.

And a lot of us, myself included, take it for granted.

That goes for all technology. We use it to share photos of mundane things like what we ate for lunch.

We watch viral YouTube videos. We use Facebook to share insignificant details about our lives and to post photo albums of our dogs wearing sweaters.

Meanwhile, some 14-year-old kid is using technology to come up with a way to detect cancer.

Our smartphones today have more computing power than the entire NASA ground control that sent man to the moon. A single, reasonably priced desktop computer can perform the work of multimillion-dollar supercomputer from the days of old.

Technology has come such a long way, and I think we are doing a disservice to years of progress.

I’m not saying we all have to use our iPhones to rid the world of terminal diseases, but there surely has to be a more productive use for them than playing Angry Birds.

Nelson is news editor for The Outlook.