So I’ve been talking a lot about Hackerspace on this blog, but I just realized I should upload this essay I wrote on them. This was part of my application for the Thiel Fellowship for the prompt “Tell us one thing about the world that you strongly believe is true, but that most people think is not true. If this belief shapes the way you live, tell us how.” As a member of the public school system, sometimes I marvel about the fact that I still like science. Lab’s turn into assembly lines where creativity is debilitating because of lack of materials and time. One of my hopes for Hackerspace like BioCurious, Genspace, and soon to be HiveBio, is that they can help get kids interested in science. People will be able to actually play around, because honestly, biotech is just awesome!
Ok, here goes the essay…
Our society leaves the talent of youth unharnessed. We place a higher emphasis on age than innovation. Some of the best ideas in our day and age stemmed from “kids” who still get excited with new ideas. We need to encourage innovation, giving more opportunities for young people to explore their ideas, rather than telling them to wait “until they’re older”.
Everyone has memories of being told, “because grown-ups know best”. That galled me as a 6-year-old, and it only festered with time. Science fair projects based on friction seem fun for 11-year-olds, but no one’s supposed to even think about fission until long after college. When I started looking for lab prospects last summer, the dearth of opportunities for youth shocked me. Even in Seattle with a huge pool of biotech companies, only one summer biotech program existed for teens. One woman even told me, “You have a great idea, but you often seem to forget you’re only a high school student.” Science depends on new ideas competing for novelty, because being the second person to invent the iPod doesn’t really matter.
Clearly then, people with ideas need to be encouraged, no matter their age. People under 21 have sparked some of the leading innovations in our time. Facebook stemmed from college fiddlings. Bill Gates cofounded Microsoft at 19, and started programming in middle school. Yet our society keeps youth waiting until years after college before they are supposed to pursue with ideas. Entrepreneurs I met while networking, like Cindy Wu of Microryza and Matthew Scholz of Immusoft helped inspire me to follow my dreams, encouraging me to apply for the Thiel Fellowship. But I’m one of few. For the rest, society must nurture innovation from a young age.
We need to encourage young people to share their ideas, and when they’re good enough, work hard to turn them into something. Furthermore, we need opportunities for young people to actually have access to new technology – to work with their ideas and experiment. Public School science mostly consists of a few pathetic kits, and uninterested teachers. It shows kids that science equals baking soda and vinegar or boring, outdated textbooks, just when they start to find their interest.
Hackerspaces like Noisebridge in San Francisco help to inspire innovation, but we need places all over the country. Hackerspace, community spaces allowing for experimentation without formal background, exist for computer science, but are blaringly absent for Biology and other, less technology orientated sciences. By setting up places where people can work on their ideas without having it as their formal “work”, people start to innovate. These environments help to obviate the concept of failure, which is essential for innovation. People can test out their ideas without the threat of high-pressure venture capitalists breathing down their necks. And most importantly, people can start on their ideas right away, without trudging through a fifteen-year system of school, and entry-level jobs.
Youth have untapped potential to change the world – if only given a chance. I refuse to accept the fact that I can’t come up with ideas, or start a business because I’m “still a kid”. The enthusiasm of youth kindles innovation and fuels passion, but ideas aren’t considered without a degree and thirty years of age. We encourage every child to play sports, but we need scientists much more than one more NFL player.. The ideas around youth need to change, and more opportunities for them to explore their ideas need to be created. We need creativity safe havens for ideas to prosper and grow. Not just for them, but for the sake America’s place in the world.