Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Changing For The Better

Technological and scientific developments have resulted in tremendous lifestyle changes throughout the history of mankind. Despite many significant historic developments of the past century, these changes have appeared more rapidly over the past few decades. Such changes are necessary and essential for human survival and I personally have been affected by them, as I constantly have to adjust to new circumstances. The use of computers in my daily life has made it possible for me to use my time more effectively at work and otherwise. Only in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that someday I would be processing bank transactions without the need of standing in line or being helped by a bank teller. Computers and their applications have been instrumental at promoting change in our society’s way of thinking and behavior. They have become important tools for improved communication, decision making and discoveries in many different fronts. Several scientific fields, such as agriculture and the life sciences in particular, have been affected by such technological changes.

With such powerful tools at hand, scientists have made significant advancements in the field of agriculture by addressing the problem of food shortage as the populations of the world increases sharply every year. Consequently, there has been a need for improved strategies as there is a close correlation between population growth and food consumption. More resistant crops have been introduced in the fields as an option for farmers to overcome problems that may compromise the quality of their harvest and product cost. Companies like Monsanto have been established worldwide as a resource for local governments and private sectors. These companies evaluate specific environmental trends of a particular area and introduce grains that are resistant to certain diseases in order to bust quality and productivity. In light of these and many other promising discoveries, there have been heated discussions over the safety of such products. Many argue that genetically engineered foods are not proven to be safe for human consumption and could potentially trigger some kind of mutation in the human organism. That would become a very serious public health issue but the companies have rebuffed such allegations and sustain that their products are safe.

Due to prices of crude oil and natural gas and their environmental concerns, governments from industrialized nations have searched for ways to replace these sources of fuel into renewable, safe and environmentally acceptable alternatives. The utilization of sugarcane and corn have proven to be the best sources for producing Ethanol as an alternative fuel source opposed to the status quo which has the disadvantage of polluting the environment in addition to being very costly. The Brazilian government, for example, has followed that path very successfully after more than three decades of exhaustive scientific studies on the production of Ethanol from sugar cane. Currently every single small vehicle engine is adjusted to use a mixture of 25% Ethanol and 75% gasoline. The country’s agro fuel production has soared and shown very significant indicators as Brazil, at this time, is exporting its technology to many different countries. Most of the Ethanol production from Brazil is sold to the United States and Europe. This is an indication that all the initial investment made by the government really paid off. There has been a growing concern on the part of environmentalists that the vast areas being used for sugar cane plantations may restrict the production of foods which eventually may drive the cost of other products up.

There have been many new developments in the Life Sciences field as well. Life expectancy has increased dramatically as a result of advanced studies in the medical field. New treatments of chronic diseases such as Cancer and Aids have given people suffering from such diseases more time and the ability to live longer. The most astounding for me is the ongoing studies in the field of stem cell research. A new window has opened for potential discoveries of new drugs that will treat or even cure certain diseases like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Another development of significance is the human genome project in which the purpose is to identify human genes and sequence the base pairs which make up human DNA to be used as a data base for facilitating medical research. Computer software application is one key element for the success of many of these projects and it is used for performing complex calculations.

These are just a few examples which illustrate how fast the world is changing and the way computer technology has become a key element in the course of such changes. Despite being a natural course of human existence, changes are commonly viewed with skepticism and fear. That may be based on lack of knowledge and may not be backed up with substantial evidence to prove this antagonist point of view. Companies have become more proactive in preparing themselves to deal with both legal and ethical issues which could surface in response to those actions. Such issues would be certain to arise especially if the subject in question is public health. Some hot topics which have raised questions have to do with new methods utilizing genetic engineering for producing foods and drugs and the possibility for them to become a cumbersome health threat far greater compared to the benefits they claim to produce. Cloning and stem cell research are leading to such great medical achievements which will aid in the cure of genetic diseases but have become very touchy subjects and created great resistance from lobbyists.

I embrace change as a natural course for my own survival and the survival of future generations. It is common for me to feel uneasy when trying new methods and ideas with which I am unfamiliar. For example, as identity theft was on the rise I always felt uncomfortable using the computer to pay bills or to make any purchases online. Suddenly I am doing just that. I very rarely write a check or feel the need to go to the bank as most operations can be done online. I still have to deal with a certain level of discomfort as the chance for people to steal my identity has not gone away, but the benefits of my behavior change are far greater than the discomfort I have of being exposed to a criminal act. This scenario may apply to many other situations. In order to meet the demand for food and energy as the world population grows, scientists have to present solutions that represent change and which in turn will impact people’s behavior. Because such changes may act against people’s beliefs and values, such proposals will always face resistance from interest groups no matter what the benefits will be. Thus, what is viewed as uncomfortable or offensive by some may be viewed as inevitable and necessary by many others. In short, we are either struggling to find the best conditions for surviving in a continuous changing environment or fighting to preserve existing circumstances for fear that the change may be more harmful than beneficial. Regardless of how we feel about change, technological and scientific advances are inevitable and will continue to change our world.

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