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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Let's be amazed at our achievements

This photo made available by NASA was taken

This photo made available by NASA was taken during the first drive of the Perseverance rover on Mars on March 4, 2021. Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: AP

Have you seen and heard what’s coming back from Mars?

The video of the Perseverance rover’s touchdown, the photos of the Martian landscape, the whisper of the Martian wind.

Have you ever? I mean, this is the wind on Mars, the actual wind, its gentle thrum filling our ears as we sit at our earthly tables and desks.

And all of it is coming to us from 141 million miles away, in images and sounds clearer than those produced by security cameras in our own neighborhoods here on Earth.

It’s pretty incredible stuff. And it leaves me breathlessly amazed.

It makes me think of my grandparents, born before and around the turn of the last century, before anyone owned an automobile or listened to a radio or watched a television, and I remember the amazement they often expressed at the changes they had seen.

And it makes me think of my parents’ generation, born before television went color, before 8-tracks and cassette tapes, before anyone could send a fax, before space shots and moon shots, and before computers, and I remember the amazement they did and still do express at the changes taking place around them.

And I think of my generation, born before those computers became personal, before laptops and gigabytes, before iPods and iPads, before cellphones and the internet, before high-speed trains and massively multiplayer online video games. And I think of my children’s generation, born before smartphones and digital photos, before deepfakes and driverless cars, before online shopping and online dating, before Siri and Alexa, before social media and Zoom.

And it all is just amazing, But I worry that all of us are not amazed.

I worry that we’ve become blasé about all that we’ve achieved. It’s a little like the bigness of numbers. As they’ve grown, we’ve become inured to their size. Once upon a time, winning a million dollars was a really big deal and a $20 million building was a really big project. Now, news reports abound about billion-dollar programs and trillion-dollar deficits, and a lottery jackpot has to reach the triple-digit millions before we’re impressed enough to buy tickets.

Sometimes it feels like the same is happening to our sense of our achievements.

Now we’re able to program our homes and cars so we can turn them on or off from a thousand miles away, and it’s like it’s Tuesday. No big deal. Technology is forever evolving and more certainly is in store but it’s as if we expect incredible advancements, rather than anticipate them, and when they come we sometimes greet them with shrugs and move on to the next thing. That’s baffling for someone who remembers searching for quarters to place a long-distance call from a pay phone.

It’s good to be amazed. Amazement is a critical feeling. It helps drive our dreams and loosen our imaginations. To be amazed is to be inspired. To be amazed is to want to be amazed again. And that’s true whether we’re amazed by a feat of engineering or the kindness of a stranger, by some fantastic technological accomplishment or the grace of someone under pressure, by a mesmerizing performance on the stage or in a film or the way a community rallies around someone in need.

So much in our lives is amazing, if we open ourselves to see it.

That’s why the Perseverance rover is so important. I had tears in my eyes when it landed. I wasn’t the only one. I hope none of us ever loses those tears.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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