So I'm sitting at home in front of my big flat screen TV fed from a satellite watching the talking heads on CNN do tricks with Google Earth showing imagery shot from space that depicts the utter devastation in Haiti in near real time, augmented by a Twitter feed. What strikes me, aside from the obvious horror, is how far our capabilities in information gathering and distribution have advanced in the last 50 years, and how comparatively little our capabilities to actually do anything. People still need water and food and their wounds bandaged, all that needs to be transported and the means for transport haven't changed very much. It seems like development has proceeded in a imbalanced fashion. Our information handling abilities have grossly outstripped our matter handling abilities.
This isn't so surprising; it's just plain easier to manipulate bits than it is atoms. But I feel somewhat personally complicit. I've always tended toward the abstract; gravitating towards mathematics and computer science in school, I always felt a kind of awed admiration at the people who were actually working with stuff, like materials scientists who were pulling apart metal bars or the biologists pureeing mouse brains.
Some hackers are getting together today to try to do some kind of rapid software development for Haiti. I'm a little dubious -- no matter how quickly you can throw together a web application, it's unlikely to be quick enough to help, to connect with the real physical relief efforts on the ground. Maybe I'm wrong. Certainly there is mapping software and logistic software that can help with relief efforts, but I assume that this either is already integrated into the operations of relief agencies or it isn't -- you can't deploy stuff like that overnight. Nevertheless, all kudos to the people doing this for trying to help.