Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Winning Au, Ag or (CuSn alloy) in life


Watching the Olympics this week has got me thinking about the glory of achievement, hard work, reaching goals, and coming first. I really enjoyed the storyline in the opening ceremony – especially where the pioneers of industry played their part so vividly, inventing new things, making changes and progressing human technology.

When I was at school, coming “first in class” was not dissimilar to getting the Au, Ag and dare I say it this week, bronze medals. There was a bit of rivalry between those who aimed to be top of the class, in the achievement of the highest marks. I have heard that this has changed in modern schools: being top of the class is no longer primary goal, and that competition is discouraged (I could be wrong). But what is the point of this, when in the real world, there are the Olympics, there are jobs to get, and if you don't have that drive for competing to be the best, you end up just being average. Happier, less stressed, but in the bigger picture, just average. Granted that life “throws curve balls”, “bolts out of the blue”and just generally messes up your plans along the way, competition is still the 'norm' rather than the exception.

Whether we like it or not, our lives are surrounded by winning or not winning. Cerebral decisions are made when choices are presented to the human, and the winner of that competition would be the choice the neural connections chose to be the “best” one.

However, “coming first” is not all it's cut out to be. You could be the first one to invent a new working gadget. You might still have the personal glory of being the first, but as many early adopters of technology can attest, the best does not always win, and the first is not necessarily the best. I used to be an early adopter: in 1996 I bought a Hewlett-Packard 320LX palmtop computer. I thought it was the best tech I had ever seen: a complete computer in the palm of my hand. I could do email, word processing, spreadsheets, surf the internet (very slowly, but doable), and even send a fax with it. I bought it when I saw it, and thought: “Wow! Something useful, practical and clever, in the palm of my hand.” Sadly, the take off never came. No-one else I knew bought one. It seemed the world was a technophobe.

Enter the new Millennium, and suddenly, only 10 years later, the same features as my old HP palm top were now commonplace in mobile phones. However, if it was not for the goal of being the first handheld “everything-in-one-place gadget” of companies like HP, the goal for others to try and better that would not have taken place. Since then, the iPad, iPhone and similar gadgets are as everyday as the wrist watch (which incidentally, would have come first at some point in it's own history). Who is first, second and third now? How will it matter in 5 years' time?

I am often amused by the tv presenters talking about the “fastest losers” in some athletics events. Its like saying “lovely work” at a craft show and then walking away without buying anything. The work on sale was the fastest loser. Good, but not good enough. If you lose, you lose out.

I have not yet exhausted the analogy of going for Au, Ag or (Cu:Sn) in life as being akin to the athletics championships going on in London this week. Striving to be the best, especially a personal best (PB), could be my own goal. But the big world is out there and sometimes a PB is just not the thing to help you get the Au metallic disc. Virtual, personal medals made of gold (Au), silver (Ag) and bronze (copper (Cu)/ tin (Sn) alloy, variable composition) are the minimum goals to set. But avoid being the fastest loser! 

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