Rover, Olympics and Social Media

Like a large portion of my Twitter feed, I was glued to the Curiosity Rover landing. I had a particular appreciation for the technology involved, and the achievement of those involved in engineering, programming and testing such an endeavour. I may have been late to jump on the bandwagon, but it was hard not to be infected by the enthusiasm shown for the event. I was moved by the celebrations shown from the NASA live stream – few people get to enjoy such significant, unique events in their professional careers.

It was interesting to watch how social media reacted. At first there was the huge build up of excitement for the event, that quickly turned to poking fun at how it had trumped all manner of other things including sports, celebrities, PCs, television, and religion. There were certainly some witty one-liners going around, but that spawned monotonus retweets, then variants on the same joke, and then retweets of the variants on the same joke. This is how social media works in a big event, and I’ve played my part in it. But as it went along, it was as if the thread lost sight of what had actually been achieved – instead focusing on science having defeated its “adversaries”.

I didn’t understand the sudden Olympics bashing that occurred, seemingly by virtue of just occurring at the same time. Why should one achievement have to take away from another? Surely, we can recognise each for its own merit, no matter how different those fields are. Didn’t we get the science vs. sport rivalry out of our systems in high school?

Some commented particularly on the disproportionate recognition sportspeople and celebrities get. That’s true, particularly for individual pursuits. However, watching the celebrations from the rover landing I doubt that they are any less satisfied with their achievement! It’s not as if they were thinking, “Take that, Usain Bolt!”. At least, I didn’t see anyone pull back in his pose and point towards Mars.

Besides, what worth does such recognition alone really offer, when it can be so fleeting? Anyone dedicated to something only to make a name for themselves would ultimately find it futile (a topic that by no coincidence is on my mind from a sermon recently).

As I think of all the people I know, those I admire most are the ones that work hard at things that bring about good, whether they receive recognition for it or not. The technologists that have built great and useful things, the professional sportspeople that train hard and are committed to their family. The emergency services workers and nurses that deal with gruesome hours and situations to help others. The missionaries that leave friends and family behind to serve overseas. My wife, who works selflessly to raise our kids.

When you break it down, it’s easy to appreciate all of that work without diminishing another. I think it’s the same when you look at the big picture. Whether you run faster than anyone else on the planet, or land a vehicle on a neighbouring planet – what gets you there is not only the hard work and dedication involved, but the people who’ve gone before you, and all those that surround and support you now.

My congrats go out to our Apache friends at JPL and their colleagues, on what is a mind-blowing achievement. I look forward to seeing what they and their curious friend discover over the next couple of years!

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