Today, messages from computers and a message from a
balloon. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
local grade school sent me a joyous cluster of
balloons after my thousandth episode. What a lovely
gesture! For seven weeks, balloons swayed under the
ceiling fan. Each time I saw them they touched me.
They reminded me what powerful role-models for
change and adaptability school children are.
I thought about those children and their balloons
yesterday while I was talking with a friend about
change and adaptability -- about the new computer
networks. She said she didn't need the networks,
even though she knew she would, eventually, use
"But, but, but," I sputtered. "The networks are
restitching our broken world. They bind us together
in times that seem to be blowing us apart. The
networks give us new ways to talk to one another,
just when conversation seems to grow impossible."
She looked at me as though I were selling
snake-oil. After all, she hadn't experienced what I
had. How could I make sense? So I thought about
children and balloons -- what it was to be seven
years old: Math means nothing. Literature means
nothing. Life is a clean slate. All meanings have
to be forged from scratch.
My friend was right, of course. No one needs a new
technology. We can't feel any need for things we've
never experienced. We jitter about this new medium,
wondering whether we want to accept the terrifying
gift of change. Some of us will let it transform
us. For the rest, life will go on. But, in the end,
I know my friend will be among those who do accept
The need for transformation is something that lies
at our biological core. On some level we have to
have it as surely as we have to have air. Once we
called ourselves Homo sapiens, they-who-are-wise.
Now we use the term Homo technologicus,
they-who-use-technology. Actually, we're Homo
transformandus, they-who-undergo-transformation. We
create technologies, then we let them transform us.
That's who we are.
By now, of course, all but one of my balloons had
finally sagged to the floor -- one with the word
"Congratulations" written on it. So I released that
last silver balloon into the sky. The message rode
away on the south wind 'til it was only a dot.
Then it vanished from sight, but that invisible
balloon kept on catching bright flashes of sun --
telegraphing one more unexpected message of joy and
hope back to me -- reminding me what the children
knew, and what they wanted me to know. I watched
that balloon flashing its Promethean message,
stealing fire from the sun and promising change --
promising unwanted and indispensible change.
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds