Nasa’s Juno or Snapchat’s Memories — what’s more important?

I gave an impromptu talk on Technology of the Future to a group of interns in work last week and I started off with one of my favourite quotes — “You Promised Me Mars Colonies, Instead I Got Facebook” from the MIT technology review. I asked them what actually is more important — Mars or Facebook? Then, realising the interns probably don’t use Facebook anymore (except to share pictures they don’t mind their parents seeing), I put it slightly differently— what’s more important, Nasa’s Juno mission to Jupiter or that Snapchat had just announced their new Memories feature?

Juno is a probe that just reached the solar system’s largest planet after a five year journey, Memories is a new way to save your snaps and stories so they don’t disappear forever.

Is a new social network feature that may or may not bring joy and satisfaction into millions of people’s lives more important? Are social networks merely a gimmick, just a way for people to spend some time on their beloved smartphones — or are they an intrinsically important part of modern society? Is the Juno mission and its efforts to understand more about a big ball of gas millions of miles from us vital to our collective knowledge and future? Or is it just an expensive science project?

As a thirty something dad, I don’t use Snapchat (although apparently I soon may be) and I quite like Space. Blame it on a Star Trek filled childhood or just that I like big, interesting questions (what is the Universe expanding into? What if the galaxies aren’t moving outwards as the universe expands, but the stuff between them is? Mind blown.) — but I’d probably say Juno over Memories. I think working on big, important problems like sending a probe across the void will lead to better technology and worthwhile advances, whereas new app features will just lead to slightly better apps.

I think however that while the answer will always be a personal one for each individual, the general theme of the question has wider relevance and consequences. I mentioned it to that group of new banking interns as I wanted them to consider it in relation to their new careers — what should they be working on? What should the bank, their new temporary employer, be working on? Something big, risky and potentially game-changing, or new features for existing products? Should they, at the start of their careers, aim small, or aim big?

I’m on the big game changing side, but then again I’m a thirty something recovering Trekkie who doesn’t use Snapchat …

Anyone who wants to let me know what you think, please do!

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