Although my own weekly podcast appears on the ITConversations channel of the Gigavox network, lately I find myself listening more often to our sister channel, Social Innovation Conversations. And I’ve started to wonder: Why are these two different channels, for two different audiences? Increasingly I wish I could mash them together. Dean Kamen’s recent appearance on Tim Zak’s Globeshakers series on SIConversations gives me a sense of what that would be like. Here his pitch:

Given the enormous rate at which technology is moving forward, almost all the ‘Can this be done?’ questions have essentially been answered by ‘Yes.’ The much tougher question right now isn’t ‘What can we do with technology?’ — it’s ‘What should we do with technology?’ That’s a much harder question involving practical issues, moral issues…the haves and the have-nots, in technology, education, and health care, are diverging.

People who can develop new technologies ought to start thinking, more than they have in the last few decades, about where it’s appropriate to deploy the energy and passion to develop the next level of technology. There are just so many video games that we need, and just so many luxury leisure-time products that we need.

If societies start to recognize that we really do get what we celebrate, and we start celebrating the right things, we’ll see a much more effective use of our available technologies and a much more appropriate and focused set of developments of our future technologies. Instead of focusing on what we can do with technology, we should focus on how to be responsible to each other, to the environment, to the future of this delicate little planet.

I’ve transcribed that quote here for two reasons. First, because I know that relatively few people have the time or inclination to listen to as many podcasts as I lately find myself wanting to do. Second, because I know that people who self-identify as technogeeks are more likely to subscribe to ITConversations than to SIConversations.

As I write this entry I’m enroute from one technogeek paradise, the Microsoft campus, to another, the O’Reilly campus. In doing so I’m crossing a bridge between two cultures that are, in some ways, very different. On the Microsoft campus, for example, Windows laptops are ubiquitous and Macintosh laptops are scarce. On the O’Reilly campus it’s the reverse.

In other ways these cultures are very alike. In both places, you’ll routinely see people whizzing around on the invention for which Dean Kamen is best known: the Segway. Geeks of all persuasions are early adopters and everyday users of this machine which, for most people, remains an exotic curiosity.

And yet, there wasn’t a single mention of the Segway in Tim Zak’s 45-minute interview with Dean Kamen. What’s top of mind, for Kamen, is US FIRST — the acronym expands to For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The goal is to reframe the idea of success which, he says, too many teenagers define unrealistically in terms of sports and entertainment. He wants them to know that success in science and engineering is, for the vast majority, both more achievable and more socially productive. A Wired article in 2000 called the idea far-fetched, but FIRST’s robotics competitions have grown steadily since 1992, and in 2007, Kamen says, the final event packed 70,000 people into Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

A key ingredient of the program is the mentoring that’s provided by scientists and engineers on loan from corporate sponsors:

These kids really weren’t building robots. They were building relationships with serious adults, they were building an understanding of what’s possible if you put your energy and passion to things that matter.

I’d love to see a mashup of ITConversations and SIConversations that would produce more shows like that.