The biggest problem is that the vast majority of people are semi-vegetables in relation to creative thought, and have far too much access to mindless dribble that suites their needs just fine. Look at tinsel town, it's not really the actors that make the program gripping, it's the director producer, editor and script writer that really make or break a film I've seen good actors (I thought) in B-grade movies, and it's the director that's killed it. Look at music, really it's the producer and song writer that create the hit. A singer or actor gets one song that's a hit and the rest of the tripe they present is lapped up by an army of mindless zombies. The actors and the singers are really only the "screen". So if the real value behind the façade of the entertainment industry doesn't get recognition (except from their peers,) I ask the question; with that sort of audience what hope does real value have? I'm sorry, this might be heresy for a lot of people, but in the context of this discussion I think it's on the mark.
Using my engineering skills making undergarments that protect sensitive tissues from airport x-rays and also happens to blind the 150K airport scanner. This is inconvenient for TSA but a benefit to the public, fig leaf undies ( RockyFlatsGear.com) products made quite a world wide splash.
Have been doing high tech embedded code and medical devices for years, nice satisfaction that I have been helping people and saving lives. No fame no fortune, treated like a commodity although I do have a hot wife.
Invented low tech radiation (x-ray/mm-wave) absorbing undergarments to protect people from the backscatter AIT/WBS airport scanners RockyFlatsGear.com went viral last year.
I and the fig leaf underwear product has been on international and national TV/radio all of the news wires all with radio opaque to x-rays(20-100KV). Timing plus material science and nuclear physics 101.
I'm not a hero but, have had more fun talking to people and shipping undies all around the planet. News flash, mainstream press is not a friend of the people, major network guys amplify the trial while hiding the important events and news. Perhaps our product will stop a case of cancer and give people some dignity from the electronic strip search.
Let's begin with Watson...our newest technological hero with newfound national recognition. The mainstream press can either treat Watson as a flash in the pan, or follow and promote the achievement and future developments with great fervor.
Bill, it's up to you and your peers to create and promote new technology heros...so let's start now while the attention is focused and make Watson our poster boy.
I read an interesting column by Thomas Sowell along the same lines recently. The whole post is at http://patriotpost.us/opinion/thomas-sowell/2011/01/25/new-heroes-vs-old/
He starts by chronicling how JDRockefeller created a better life by revolutionizing the petroleum industry.
He summarizes: "At one time, people like Rockefeller, Edison, Ford and the Wright brothers were regarded as heroes, for having opened vast new possibilities for other human beings. The fact that they got rich doing it was an incidental part of the story.
We still have people revolutionizing our lives. Just think of the computer and the pharmaceutical drugs that have not only lengthened our lives but made them more healthful, so that being 80 years old today is like being 60 years old in times past.
But today we seldom even know the names of those who have made these monumental contributions to human well-being. All we know is that some people have gotten "rich" and that this is to be regarded as some sort of grievance.
Many of the people we honor today are people who are skilled in the rhetoric of grievances and promises of new "rights" at someone else's expense. But is that what is going to make a better America?"
I remember an essay by Drucker saying US society celebrates, on a daily basis, people of no consequence. That works better really because actresses and sports people have very little potential for creating trouble for the society then, e.g., a scientist or a millitary leader gone awry.
To answer Bill's question posed in the headline, one way is through our own industry's ads. I am reminded of the Intel TV ad from 2009 featuring Ajay Bhatt, the co-inventor of USB, as if he were a rock star. That was funny and cool and also effective as an ad.
I have become the engineer-celebrity, but unfortunately it is only among a small circle of friends and relatives. I am the one who is asked to solve the problems, I am the one who is able to advise how to fix things, and I am the one warning them when something will go wrong. Unfortunately it does not make me much money, even when one employer realized that I could almost always deliver a solution. And it did not impress at all the top manager who believed that style must at all times trump substance. And of course, when style overshadows substance, we all lose. Being the hero can be fun, but it usually will not make you rich. I think that it is a personality and values thing.