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.
Bravo Bill - this post is great and gave me a few chuckles to start my Wed work day! (Especially Duane's comment "I didn't spend four years in computer school to talk to people.")
As a non-engineer working in an engineering environment, I see very little potential in finding engineers interested in celebrity status. They love their work, but they don't need others to love them for it.
However, I do see your point -- that it would be better for society as a whole to worship engineers than our current celebrities like Paris Hilton. Did you happen to see the movie Splice? Although bizarre and creepy at points, I loved how the two main characters were scientists that society adored at rock-star status.
Engineers themselves may not have become the celebrities but the innovative products that they have created have definitely become celebrities . I think TIME magazine had declared 'PC' as the man of the year some years ago. Another products which enjoyed celebrity status are Sony Walkman, The Rubic Cube and we can site many more such examples. The engineers who created these products also became celebrities of that time. Mr. Narayanmurthy of India , an engineer, who created INFOSYS and nurtured it to become a world class IT company became so much of a celebrity that he was honored by NASDAQ to ring the bell for the opening session of the American stock exchange. There would be many such examples of Americans achieving the celebrity status
well anyone who becomes celebrity and that includes engineers or scientist, have to sacrifice their private life because the fact that you are a celebrity people wants to know everything that you do. And I dont think anyone in engineering or scientific field would compromise on that.
Sorry, KB3001, I wish it were so, but IMO your "cream" comment is wishful thinking, I see no evidence it will happen--in fact, the celeb culture is getting more intense. Maybe things will change when some major catastrophe or crisis or apocalyspe occurs, but until then, I don;t see it happening.