For better or worse, technology — the application of science — drives us. In many cases, it improves our lives for the better. Who wouldn’t point to the printing press, the automobile, the artificial heart, as life-improving technologies? Yet by its very nature, technology is relentless.

The printing press, which expanded accessibility to the written word from the privileged few to the masses, has been supplanted by digital words on a backlit display as the primary means of written communication. While certainly, valuable printed publications (like Process Cooling, natch!) continue to thrive, few if any exist solely as a printed document. Websites, videos, electronic books and enewsletters are just some of the ways that the written word is carried to the audience completely digitally. If the naysayers are to be believed, our youngest generations will not know how to read or write cursive. The few full sentences they write will be of the “I wl C U l8r” variety. I doubt it will be as bad as that.

Yet, what if technology advances so much that the written word is no longer needed? We could communicate via SnapChat, in six-second increments (about all our short attention spans can handle) via telepathic-like transmissions. While I doubt it will be anything like that either, it’s not so far-fetched.

What got me thinking about all this — besides the latest nearly unintelligible text message from my niece of the “YW HAK g2g” variety — was reading a report on research at the University of Washington while I was preparing this issue for publication. One of our articles this month, “Using Chlorine Dioxide for Effective Water Treatment” by Amit Gupta and Stefan Muench of Nalco, an Ecolab Co., describes how a long-known microbiological control technology for industrial cooling water systems is finding new use amid the changing regulatory and environmental climate. Old technology becomes attractive as the environment in which it would be used changes.

By contrast, the UW team achieved something groundbreaking: They used an infrared laser to cool water by about 36°F (20°C).  (Though the laser refrigeration process was first demonstrated in vacuum conditions at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995, the UW team is the first to demonstrate it in liquids.) Though highly improbable that laser-cooling systems will replace large-scale industrial process cooling systems, its ability to provide pinpoint cooling shows promise for semiconductors and other electronics as well biological applications. New technology becomes a driver that changes how we apply what we know.