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Cheap Glasses for Everyone

Published by marco on

Compared to the problems caused in the first world, third world problems can generally be solved relatively cheaply. It costs well north of a trillion to even make it look like you’re doing something about saving the U.S. economy, but it takes a few paltry tens of billions to feed everyone in Africa. How much is that? A couple of months in Iraq? We can spend our money on blowing things up, but not on feeding people or controlling disease. While building a military machine to grind the world under its bootheel seems to quite clearly be the government’s job, the job of curing eminently curable diseases and feeding the world’s poor is apparently left up to previously rapacious tech-industry tycoons who’ve turned over a new leaf (I’m looking at you, Gates). Whereas Gates doesn’t yet have anything to do with the invention described in the article, Inventor’s 2020 vision: to help 1bn of the world’s poorest see better, it’s a safe bet he will.

It’s also a relatively safe bet that the U.S. government will find some way to disparage the idea and offer zero funding for it because they won’t be able to figure how to monetize or militarize a cheap pair of glasses. After all, how can one even conceive of getting glasses cheaply to the world’s poor? We can conceive of a six-year operation like the one going on in Iraq, with hundreds of billions of dollars spent, hundreds of thousands of people involved and military infrastructure like this world has never seen, but bring up the idea of distributing cheap glasses to the poor in Africa and everyone will look at you like you have three heads for even thinking that such a thing is possible.

Instead of dwelling on the negative though (like we do), let’s hear about these glasses:

“Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles. […] The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed.”

Coupled with increased programs to combat the diseases and maladies that make so many of the world’s poor (prematurely) blind in the first place, these glasses could be just the thing for so many people in need. Unfortunately, some can’t see the utility, as with the members of the Reddit community, who could only point out that the prescription wouldn’t be spot-on or that it wouldn’t be able to address stigmatism or produce bifocals or trifocals … and so on. Their negativity was apparently based on their complete inability to think of how much less miserable life for tens of millions would be if they could actually see anything at all. Instead, they based their analysis on what they thought the glasses could do for their rich, pampered asses, which is a sadly typical reaction.

Here’s hoping these glasses find some funding and find some way of being manufactured in quantities and at prices that will really help. Let’s hope fervently that they don’t end up cursed by ridiculously high prices, like many drugs, medicines and seeds whose patents belong to the international pharmacological and agricultural concerns. We’ve got enough things on the “stuff that could be produced cheaply and sold at-cost to the poor, but we’re not socialists, are we now?” list.