Technology to Tears: Tools That Help us Know


Did you ever have a wonderful-terrible moment of catastrophic comprehension when your vision suddenly broke through the thin surface film we call waking consciousness to deeper, truer levels of REAL-ity than you saw just seconds before? I had such a moment when I first read about the coming of the World Wide Telescope–the same kind of weep-for-joy wonder I experienced when I zoomed home in Google Earth for the first time. My God, our tiny personal here and now makes us ignorant of so much Other stuff.

I pretty much knew better than to try to share such an experience only to be set up as a maudlin, geeky old coot. So my honest and unconfessed gut reaction to the World Wide Telescope is validated to find this morning Robert Scoble’s reaction to the WWT– He cried. Good on you, Mr. Scoble, I understand. Here’s how he explains it:

So, why cry over a telescope?

Because I just saw the world I live in, er, excuse me, the universe I live in in a new way that I never had imagined before.

I cried because I imagined all the kids, like my sons, who will be inspired by what they see. It took me back to the days when John Kennedy wanted us to go to the moon. Hint: there’s a lot more out there to explore.

I cried because I realized just how much work, money, and all that went into making these images. I never had access to them before. Certainly not in this way so I could compare them by clicking a button. As a taxpayer who’s helped pay for some of these telescopes it’s the first time I’ve seen the results of my and your, investments in our scientific research.

It’s human to look out at the sky and wonder what’s going on out there. This takes us a LOT further into our understanding of just what is.

And,, yes, that’s worth crying some inspirational tears. Thank you to Microsoft Research for inspiring me in a way that Microsoft hasn’t inspired me in years.

And, also, sorry to the teams that I caused some PR troubles for. I hope you’ll forgive me for getting a little excited. I couldn’t contain myself. It isn’t everyday that you get to see such an inspiring piece of software.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Good on Mr. Scoble indeed. And thanks to the rest of you maudlin old coots (like you, Dad) who see nebulae in just about anything. We need you to remind us.

  2. Wonderful!! If more people had that kind of reaction to the unexpected opening of a new world, or were even open to such a thing, we would, perhaps, be better off. I swear that people have their sense of wonder removed as they attain the ability to vote, or when they graduate, or at some point after moving beyond grade school.

    Good for you Fred, and thank you for sharing your sense of wonder – nice reminder that many of us just haven’t paid enough attention to the remarkable things surrounding us.