Friday, May 21, 2010

Powerful pants

LA Times Article: Nanotechnology: One day your pants may use nanofibers to power up your iPod -

Apparently, my pants have been busy.  It seems that while they’ve been quietly hanging in the closet, the desire to lead more productive lives has been brewing.  No longer content with simply being pockets tied to extraneous material, or the covering necessary to engage in polite social situations, my jeans have a new mission: they wish to charge my cell phone.  And my iPod…perhaps my computer…my TV… or my microwave.  The sky is the limit. 

I wonder what else my jeans can do for me. What other secret talents they possess that I’ve been unaware of.  Perhaps I’ll put them to the test – set them outside my front door and try to train them to take out the trash.  Or expose my tank tops to the sunshine and use the solar energy to water the plants.  Forget about the generation of robots, I possess power in my socks.  Rather than charge my cell phone, I think I would prefer my sweatshirts be a bit more helpful around the house.  I volunteer to plug in my electronics, and they can mop, do the laundry, or take the dog outside.

We have some very smart people hard at work on this project, spending days brainstorming about how to harness the electrical power in clothing fiber that comes from our body’s movement in order to boost our batteries.  The electrical power doesn’t simply appear just from zipping up your jeans though; you actually have to be moving around.  I'm picturing firms of lawyers doing the hokey-pokey while engaging in business meetings.   I get it. It makes sense – this ‘wasted’ energy that we generate all day as we type, make a cup of coffee, sweep, or retrieve the mail could be better put to use.  It would be a shame to actually have to exert ourselves just for the sake of exercise or enjoyment or because our bodies were meant to move forward.  Still, I like the idea of my clothing working for me as I’ve been feeling like my t-shirts really haven’t been earning their keep.

I find myself browsing through the Gap with new eyes, wondering if cargo pants outperform leggings, or if underwire bras would short-circuit my calls.  If I twirl in circles for 30 minutes, will that buy me a day’s worth of text messages? Does brushing my teeth count as movement? Can I set my alarm clock with the electricity from my flannel pjs?

This is all very appealing but there’s something that’s just not sitting right.  I'm all for using the energy we can find naturally, and providing incentives for people to get off the couch and strolling around the neighborhood.  Plus, if it means less cords to get tangled up in, then lets bring on the powerful pants. 

But there are smart people working on this – people who actually understand science-y topics and why if I push ‘on’ my coffee pot brews me a lovely wake-up beverage.  There are smart people working on this, and I have to ask: Can you leave my jeans alone and work on curing cancer? Or powering my car without gasoline? Or brainstorm ways to regenerate brain connections in Alzheimer’s patients? If we want to stick to smaller technological advances, how about creating universal free power so that everyone has heat in the winter or running water or the ability to utilize the Internet? Selfishly, I’d really appreciate it if my phone would stop dropping calls inside my living room. (Apartment D, west LA – bad reception if any of you smart people are reading and want to take a crack at this)

I know that we’re a society that looks forward, always reaching for the next advancement, the next breakthrough, the next land to conquer and the next goal post to bypass.  We continue to ask “What’s next”, pushing ourselves to do more, be more, learn more, and create more.  It keeps us on creative soil, keeps us from settling, and keeps our eyes focused on the horizons.  This is good.  This is necessary.  I know that this is how we find the cures for diseases, the untapped energy source, and the keys to the mysteries of the world.  I know that often the breakthroughs arrive unexpectedly, a visitor crashing the research, the answer to puzzle 8 discovered while working on question 17. Maybe while cultivating the fibers in my t-shirts, new innovations will be discovered or the cure for the common cold will appear.  Maybe.

 But in the meantime, let’s compromise.  I’ll allow my pants to hang uselessly in my closet and promise to plug in my cell phone every night if you’ll use your smart science brains to work on diseases that kill our loved ones.  Deal?

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