A Lively, Constructive Discontent

  • June 15, 2018
  • by Rebecca W. Rimel

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by Rob Waters

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We honor the past but we focus on the future, often taking on challenges that others might ignore or fail to recognize.

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Outback Visionaries

by Daniel Lewis

June 15, 2018

Although 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, allowing us to celebrate the milestones we’ve achieved over the past seven decades, Pew’s founders did not spend much time gazing in the rearview mirror. Joseph Newton Pew Jr. explained their forward-looking approach when he said in 1957: “Let us function with a lively, constructive discontent with things as they are and strive for an illimitable future, first for new discoveries and, secondly, making those discoveries obsolescent as we proceed toward our ultimate destiny.”

All four of the founders—J.N., J. Howard, Mary Ethel, and Mabel Pew—were flexible, adaptable, innovative, and optimistic—and they designed the Trusts to be the same. This unique vision has allowed Pew to grow and change, evolving from a small family charity to a global independent nonprofit. We honor the past but we focus on the future, often taking on challenges that others might ignore or fail to recognize.

This issue of Trust takes a close-up look at how a “constructive discontent with things as they are” is leading to new and important changes in health care, conservation, demographic research, and communications.

Almost every hospital and health care system in the United States, for example, has moved from handwritten, frequently illegible, and sometimes inaccurate doctor’s notes to electronic health records. That was a big step in the right direction. But two challenges remain: interoperability and safety. The many different electronic records systems in diverse settings can have a hard time communicating with one another, which means that patients can still be identified incorrectly. In this issue you’ll read about how problems with electronic health records are leading to new collaborations and research to develop solutions—from biometrics to smartphone-based data—that will give clinicians immediate information about a patient’s identity, medical history, and medications while improving the safety, quality, and accessibility of our health care.

Sometimes constructive discontent can be found in unexpected places, including the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the remote Australian Outback. Reg Sprigg had tried for years to get the government to turn the 235-square-mile former sheep station into a national park. When that didn’t come to fruition, Sprigg and his wife, Griselda, bought the vast geological wonderland in 1967, and began managing Arkaroola for wildlife preservation and conservation. His children, Marg and Doug, have become contemporary Outback champions, picking up where their father left off, re-establishing native flora and fauna, and turning the sanctuary into a carefully managed destination for ecotourism that promotes conservation, education, and research.

Bringing people to Arkaroola—whose geology dates back 1.6 billion years—for activities such as hiking, stargazing, and even painting helps this threatened land. As you’ll read in this issue, wise stewardship of the Outback requires people, and Pew is working with residents like Marg and Doug to build a sustainable future by expanding its economy while preserving its natural beauty.

Having a lively discontent almost defines what it means to be young. We see this in literature—from Huck Finn to Hermione Granger—and in life. And we see it again in the way young people are using social media. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center that is reported on in this issue, nearly 90 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 use social media. But, the survey suggests, there is a move away from older platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Seventy-eight percent of 18- to 24-year-olds—a record high—is now on the photo- and video-sharing platform Snapchat, while only 54 percent of the slightly older 25- to 29-year-old cohort use it.

As Aaron Smith, associate director of research at the center, notes, “Young people tend to be the first adopters of lots of different technologies,” which both awes and terrifies their parents. In our cover story, we take a look at today’s moms—many of whom have waited until their 30s and 40s to have children—and the effects on family life and career advancement this change is likely to create in years to come.

No doubt today’s unique challenges—and even terms such as interoperability, ecotourism, and social media—would have puzzled members of the Pew family and their contemporaries back in 1948. But they would be enormously pleased that the process of discovery, innovation, and reinvention they encouraged is fully embraced in the institution they founded and in our culture and communities 70 years later.