As an engineer for the past 30 years, it concerns me to see our nation continue its decades-long slide further away from a nation of doers into a nation of consumers. I have to agree that in many ways we have lost our competitive edge in technology — not because of a lack of talented engineers, but due to a lack of sufficient investment (both private and public) toward creating the critical technologies that will form a solid foundation and fuel our future economic growth.
Engineering is by definition the application of technology. Engineers take the results of basic research of scientists and apply those resultant technologies to create useful products and processes. So a critical prerequisite to maintaining a lead in applying technology is through public and private funding of basic research projects, as well as critical, large-scale engineering projects.
When I was 10 years old (in 1968), the technological push was all focused on the Moon Race. When I was 17, my high school chemistry teacher talked about his early career as a chemist working on the Manhattan Project. Similar to the moon race in scope, the Manhattan Project was a technological push that focused much of our nation's tech power for many years on a single goal. We were committed to successfully achieving that goal, just as we were committed to the manned moon landings.
Instead of our nation's current fascination with the next iThis or iThat, I think what would benefit everyone more is a moon race/Manhattan Project level of effort and funding for energy independence projects, infrastructure rebuilding projects and the like. We need projects that keep domestic engineers fully employed and paid well enough so that a higher percentage of today's students will be motivated to pursue technology-based careers.
Maybe the only way to get the nation's attention in both the public and private sector is to call these projects iEnergy, iBridges and iRoadways, iEducation, and the like. We're raising the iGeneration, and we need to find a way of capturing their attention as soon as possible! We have to teach them that the world won't stop spinning if they put down their texting, twittering and facebooking once in awhile in order to do some "real work."
We need to loudly and continually lobby our elected officials to fund basic research and large-scale engineering projects in energy, medicine and other fields. They must lead the charge, in order for private business to wake up and see that their profit motive can benefit from the investment in pursuit of these important goals.
Only then do we have a chance to compete with the rest of the world's growing technological powers.