So our techies, ever resourceful and diligent, have now invented something called “The Smart Shower.” Instead of faucets there will be a touch screen to regulate temperature, volume and flow, and even interface with your iPod to play your favorite songs. Presumably, one could Twitter and Text between the wash, rinse and repeat cycles, just in case your friends are unaware that you are in the shower and are panicking as to your whereabouts. Maybe even install a camera in the console so that there is no experience in your day that is not shared, no matter how mundane (Thanks, chubby!). So, for 4,500 bucks you too can own a smart shower, just in case that daily ritual was somewhat of brain-busting challenge for you. And if you are one of those people stumped by current shower technology, odds are: (a) – you can’t afford the $4,500 or (b) – this contraption will only make matters worse. Is this necessary? Don’t our dumb people have enough daily reminders that they aren’t exactly candidates for a full scholarship?

Technology, it seems, is a double edged sword. What makes some lives easier only makes others unmanageable (see Gramps and DVD players). It also makes some people just a tad resentful, like say, those people living in corrugated tin shacks in India with almost nothing to eat that have had their morning sunlight blocked out by the shadow of the latest gleaming skyscraper built by some giant computer corporation. That might rankle a bit when you feel compelled to cripple your oldest child so he can be a successful beggar at the fortified gates of the golf course that used to be your farm. So, technology doesn’t set us all free, and often widens the gap (more like the Grand Canyon) between the haves and have-nots of this world. It seems the smart thing to do with the Smart Shower would be to redirect the money and expertise used to create it on something useful, like, who knows, maybe a decent education for the people in the tin huts?

Or if the truth is that technology will advance regardless of the amount of poor and starving in this world and that eventually this progress will elevate them too, well, why not think things through first? Maybe make it a stated goal for technology to help every person in the world learn to read and write. That would also serve the interests of business. Illiterates don’t write many checks for goods and services, and are basically unemployable as anything but human mules. Unfortunately for them, the wheel and the motor have pretty much made that career path a limited one at best. Today’s pyramids are built with the use of machinery rather than armies of guys yelling “heave-ho!” as they roll giant granite blocks across the sand dunes under the lash of an irritable overseer. And those billions of people who remain functionally illiterate in a world that put men on the moon forty years ago and can connect every point on the globe in real time for business meetings and highly complex technical collaboration is a black eye for mankind.

While super expensive research and seemingly useless scientific endeavors have brought us all kinds of incredible benefits, the high tide hasn’t yet raised all boats. The space program and the race to the moon, for example, was on the face of it a vanity project being done only because it could be done and for no other reason. Turns out those huge and coordinated scientific efforts produced the lion’s share of the technology that paved the way for the Information Age and the remarkable technology that keeps raining down us like a Smart Shower. Just as Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic as much to prove the earth was a globe as finding gold for Queen Isabella, that supposedly frivolous expedition opened the floodgates to an incredible age of discovery and invention that has only picked up momentum ever since and is now so rapid that it is threatening to outstrip our ability to absorb it all. The Smart Shower is but one of countless new doodads of dubious merit that beg the question: Is this necessary?

Those of us communicating like we are now via the internet, while not all being a part of the inventive process, are certainly its beneficiaries and are people comfortable with technology to one degree or another, Smart Showers and all. But there’s a whole other half of humanity living in the technological Dark Ages, farming with beasts of burden, living by candlelight and fetching water from tainted wells or streams where their farm animals defecate (in effect, Not-So-Smart-Showers). They die in droves from starvation and tainted water-related diseases, to the tune of almost 20 million a year, every year. Where’s their technology? Where’s their progress? It seems that the only high tech devices to make it into even the most remote backwaters in great quantities is AK-47 machine guns, and those sure haven’t helped matters all that much. Sort of counter productive when you think about it.

Don’t hand them Twitter either, unless you want to read “Still hungry” or “Ate my shoes for lunch” fifty times a day. There wouldn’ be a lot of LOL going on, but plenty of OMG! How about a high tech Peace Corps instead? Send in engineers, builders, water purification and agriculture specialists and most importantly, teachers. Unlike the AK-47s, most things come with written instructions and technology by its nature requires an education to be useful. An educated population is less likely to die of starvation or drink tainted water and more likely to make themselves and their nation prosperous. A prosperous neighbor tends to be a peaceful and amicable trading partner, no longer a drain on the world’s economy but a vigorous contributor.

Which is not to say that the education will take with everyone. Even here in Technology Poster Boy Central, the United States, you have bozos forming prayer circles around their dying child instead of getting her medical help, Neanderthals hunting Mexicans with rifles in the deserts of the Southwest and God addicts swearing the world is only 6,000 years old. But they are few and far between, their prosperity and continued existence ensured by the vast majority of Americans who go with the program of living in the real world. And so it can be in the rest of the world if we spread the technology around a little more equitably. We might want to hold off on the Smart Showers for a while, though. No sense alienating them right off the bat.

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