Should we think more about the consequences of our designs even if it's not directly our problem?
SAN FRANCISCO--My brain is a sometimes scary place where even I fear
I can often be of two minds (journalism training perhaps) or more,
and the squash match that rages across my synaptic gaps and neurons
is vicious and exhausting. This happened today as I came across a
story about the government lawsuit against the addictive Buckyballs
product, which forced the manufacturer to pull them from the market.
What's the hub-bub behind the government strong-arming? Buckyballs
are small, magnetized balls you can form into any number of shapes.
Once you start, it's hard to stop, as I found by playing with my
cube mate's set (
see video). Unfortunately if you're a small child
or just stupid, ingesting these tiny balls can cause big-time
problems. Think about different parts of your intestines being
pulled toward each other in unhealthy ways. (In a ironic twist, it
turns out, according to our colleague R. Colin Johnson, that real
buckyballs might be hazardous to your DNA).
In the case of the play Buckyballs, the Consumer Products Safety
Commission said "bad, very bad" and pressured
into ending production, despite obvious warnings on the
products. The libertarian
crowd is up in arms for sure, and parents organizations
are relieved. In my squash match, I'm thinking:
"This isn't plague.
There have been a dozen ingestions in three years. So, um, here's a
thought: Don't bring 'em home for the kids! You don't hand carving
knives over to the little ones do you?"
But on the other hand, these are pretty strong magnets and the balls are
really small (roughly about 1/8th of an inch by my eye). Some
parents are just stupid, and accidents do happen. Eliminating the
balls' manufacture will not pause the Earth's rotation, so why not?