The Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in New York City—a park not too distant from where I grew up—was built as the icon of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. It was dedicated to celebrate “man’s achievements on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that World’s Fair and the Unisphere remains a part of the city’s recognizable landscape. Many people now probably identify it mostly as a symbol for the annual U.S. Open Tennis Championships, which is held at the park. After a few years of neglect, the Unisphere again shines brightly above the glow of spotlights and, like the old days, water flows from the fountain.
Fittingly, the statement about a “shrinking globe” that defined the Unisphere when it was dedicated keeps getting more relevant by the day. Technologies far more advanced than those showcased in the pavilions of the World’s Fair continue to transform communication, transportation, education, and other areas.
It was nice to visit the park again in September for this year’s Maker Faire, a collection of engineers, tinkerers, and garage inventors who were showcasing and celebrating innovation. It was a fitting location given the park’s legacy with innovation. The maker culture represents a technology-based extension of the do-it-yourself movement. Makers like to tinker in electronics, robotics, and 3-D printing as much as woodworking and metalworking.
I’ve met few mechanical engineers who didn’t work on gadgets in their basements or car engines in their garages growing up, or even now. But the maker movement also has a more serious subtext. The developing world—where resources are often scarce and access to the technology that we take for granted here is limited—is full of makers. Some have become renowned, but others work silently to help build better, safer environments for themselves, their families, and their villages. We might consider some of the things that they create tools or gadgets rather than technology, but to millions of people these locally sourced innovations represent vital instruments of everyday life.
At a forum on engineering for global development at this month’s ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, a group of influential thinkers, who are most familiar with the nuances of the technology, economics, and politics of the developing world, will debate the ways in which those of us in the First World can help makers in the Third World usher in more sustainable technologies to local areas. The program will be streamed live on asme.org on Nov. 17.
This movement is one push toward the democratization of technology, where greater access to better technology for more people leads to a better life.
Since its formation in 1880, ASME’s mission has been to advance technology and safety. So besides noting the Unisphere’s anniversary, in this issue we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, which was first published in 1914. The Code is updated regularly to focus on new challenges and extend its growing influence around the world.
The Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code represents one way in which the achievement of men and women—hundreds of ASME volunteers—impact a shrinking world in an expanding universe. Finding more creative solutions to make people’s lives easier is another.