On Jan. 28, President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address to both houses of Congress, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and, via television, the nation and the world.
I think I know what he will tell us. I think I know what he will trumpet; the economy, the thaw with Iran, the domestic oil and gas outlook and, of course, the courage of our troops and the resilience of our people.
I would rather he told us something quite different.
I would rather he told us that we are facing wrenching changes in the way we work and the nature of work. I wish he would tell us that we are in such a high state of computerization that we have to create entirely new concepts of work, and that the new will replace the old.
He could use the examples of travel, and even golf. A century ago the travel industry was confined to the very rich. Now it is global and almost everyone travels, and that has created the world's largest industry. Golf was for the few now it is an enormous employer: a mega-industry in its own right.
I hope he will tell us that while computers take away, they also give back and whole new areas of activity will emerge. The unemployed and underskilled are, alas, the footsoldiers in this war of change. The president should acknowledge the hurt and seek to ameliorate it.
I hope he will tell us that one of our strengths is that we are a people who explore and while we explore, we will open new frontiers with new jobs.
I hope he will urge major new funding for the National Institutes of Heath so that it can fund all of the worthwhile biomedical projects seeking funding, instead one out of 10, as at present.
I hope that he will ask Congress to open the spigot for biomedical research. It is a great area for American genius to again lead the world in drugs and therapies, bringing down the cost of healthcare. A pill trumps a stay in the hospital.
I hope that he will point out that the government does some things well, from inventing the Internet to the technology of modern oil recovery. The research, he could say, would be done in universities and private institutes, but some of the risk would be undertaken by the government. He should tell his audience that although the government has had some big failures, it has also backed some extraordinary winners. Government can work well with industry, as it did with Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., in creating the technologies that have led to the oil and gas boom.
He should tell us inspiring stories of the world that is to come; for example, how 3D manufacturing is going to change the way things are made, manufacturing with less waste and more precision.
And I hope he will tantalize us with the endless possibility extended by a graphene, new product from graphite. Graphene is the stuff of science fiction, but it is here and now; companies around the world are filing patents in the thousands for applications for its use.
Graphene is a two-dimensional material — meaning that it is a single layer of carbon atoms and yet is incredibly strong — and could bring about changes only wizards might have thought possible. Its early applications are going to be in cell phone screens, computer chips and the like. But in time, when manufacturing is perfected, it could replace a slew of big, heavy materials like concrete and steel. Supposing you could wrap a power plant in it? How about a roadbed that would never wear out? Those applications are in the out years, but look for computer and telephone screens that fold like bedsheets in the near future.
I wish that the president would give us a glorious transcendental speech that would astound his friends and undercut his enemies; a call to embrace the future as a rich and extraordinary place, more magical than the present — which is not without magic, when you think about it in terms of the human pilgrimage.
Lay it on us, Mr. President, the joy of being American and alive in 2014 — in the exploration society. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate