DisC, Technology & Science — May 9, 2012 at 5:46 pm

What’s more important: being good-looking or making a societal contribution?

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The young woman is instantly recognizable, the gentleman, probably not.
The pretty young woman is American reality television star, Kim Kardashian.  Even if you’ve never seen an episode of her television show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, chances are you recognize her face and name.
The question often asked about her is “why is she famous?”  Ms. Kardashian is famous for being, well, famous. In the age of mass media and the internet, Kardashian [and other “celebutantes” like Paris Hilton] have created impressive “personal brands” by being seen publicly on red carpets in pretty clothes, appearing in magazine photo shoots and being photographed by paparazzi and then translating that visibility into sizeable personal fortunes by creating signature fragrances, clothing lines, fitness videos and handling spokesperson endorsement duties for various products.
Essentially, her career is selling an image of beauty, youth, prosperity and celebrity.
Now for the gentleman. I, personally, had never seen a photo of him, prior to googling him for this post.  His name is Doug Englebart. And he’s pretty famous in computer technology circles for inventing the computer mouse [in 1970! for which he never received any royalties!]; he was part of the team that created hypertext, [ironically, the forgoing word hypertext IS a hypertext-cool,right?], the precursors to GUIs [icons that users click on for functionality, rather than plain text- ie. clicking the icon of a music note to launch the iTunes program] and was an internet pioneer.

His Wikipedia page states: Doug Engelbart’s career was inspired in 1951 when he got engaged and suddenly realized he had no career goals beyond getting a good education and a decent job. Over several months he reasoned that:

  1. he would focus his career on making the world a better place;
  2. any serious effort to make the world better requires some kind of organized effort;
  3. harnessing the collective human intellect of all the people contributing to effective solutions was the key;
  4. if you could dramatically improve how we do that, you’d be boosting every effort on the planet to solve important problems – the sooner the better; and
  5. computers could be the vehicle for dramatically improving this capability.
In 1968, Douglas Engelbart presented a technical demonstration of what his research team (a division of the Stanford Research Institute) had been working on for several years: a computer system that would serve as a way of ‘augmenting the human intellect.’ This is a video overview of what has been called “the mother of all demos”:

Mr. Engelbart has received almost countless awards for his work, including the National Medal of Technology, the United States’ highest technology award and a British Computer Society‘s Lovelace Medal.
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Since 2006, British surveys have consistently shown that children’s number one career goal was “to be famous”. In a world infected by the cult of celebrity, is it any wonder that we can all identify Kim Kardashian and not Doug Engelbart?
I don’t mean to pick on her, but I’m singling out Kim Kardashian to illustrate a few questions: should the man whose inventions are largely responsible for the worldwide promotion of Kardashian’s image, be at least as recognizable as she is?  

Should people be celebrated for their societal contributions?  

What messages are we sending to young people who are not beautiful and popular?

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