So, neighbors - here we are at the start of a new year and we're asking ourselves, "What is there to look forward to?"
Thank goodness I got here in time with more reasons to be optimistic than you can shake a martini at:
From Edge, The Third Culture :
The Edge Annual Question — 2007
WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT? WHY?
As an activity, as a state of mind, science is fundamentally optimistic. Science figures out how things work and thus can make them work better. Much of the news is either good news or news that can be made good, thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques. Science, on its frontiers, poses more and ever better questions, ever better put.
What are you optimistic about? Why? Surprise us!
Malthus was wrong to observe that population increases geometrically while the resources available to support it increase arithmetically. It was an understandable mistake. It flies in the face of common sense that population growth will actually slow down in the face of better resources. But that is what happens, and it might yet save humanity from the fate predicted for it by the Club of Rome.
So for example, the publication last year of a carefully researched Human Security Report received little attention. Despite the fact that it had concluded that the numbers of armed conflicts in the world had fallen 40% in little over a decade. And that the number of fatalities per conflict had also fallen. Think about that. The entire news agenda for a decade, received as endless tales of wars, massacres and bombings, actually missed the key point. Things are getting better. If you believe Robert Wright and his NonZero hypothesis, this is part of a very long-term and admittedly volatile trend in which cooperation eventually trumps conflict. Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter gatherer societies? Approximately 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century complete with two world wars and a couple of nukes? Approximately 1%. Trends for violent deaths so far in the 21st century? Falling. Sharply.
It's a challenge to persuade a nation to exchange its current hearing assistive technology (which requires locating, checking out, and wearing conspicuous headsets) for a technology that many more people would actually use. But the results of our west Michigan experiment, and another in 1000 California homes, supports my optimism. Doubling hearing aid functionality will greatly increase hearing aid acceptance and use.
With on-the-horizon technology, we can also foresee music buffs with wireless ear bud loudspeakers. When that day comes, having something in one's ear will become as mundane as glasses for the eyes, and millions of people with hearing loss will be enjoying fuller and more connected lives.
That is the stage we have reached now on earth. The artificial systems we have built still depend on us, and would perish with us if we all died, but they are evolving far faster than we are, and are taking up the planet's resources in the process.
Some people still maintain the fantasy that we humans are in charge and can still control the memes we have let loose. Yet it must be increasingly obvious that we can't; that they are in the driving seat, not us. They are sucking up the planet's resources increasingly fast and, being selfish replicators, they have no foresight and don't care in the least what happens to us or the planet; they can't, they are just replicating information. So we are hovering at this second danger point right now.
Perhaps this critical point has been reached on countless planets and none pulled through—perhaps acquiring new replicators is so dangerous that memes (or their equivalents) always wipe out the original replicator that spawned them, explaining why we have not yet heard from any other intelligent beings out there. Or perhaps it is possible to for an intelligent species to work out what has happened, repair the damage and live in harmony with the creatures it unwittingly gave rise to.
I think it is, and I am optimistic that we will.
Allegiances now extend beyond national borders. I feel as distressed about the loss of the innocent lives of Iraqi citizens as I do about the loss of the innocent lives of the women and men in the U.S. military. I can view the suffering of each any time, night or day, by logging onto the "local" news in any part of the world. I can read the uncensored thoughts of anyone who wishes to share them on their personal blogs and watch the home videos they upload to YouTube and other public video sites. Government censorship is virtually impossible and the ability to hear directly from ordinary people around the world has caused me to see our connectedness. We have only just begun to realize the profound ways that technology is altering our view of the "other people" who share our planet. The use of technology to make the strange familiar will have an overall positive effect on how we think about others in our shrinking world. We are becoming more similar and connected in our basic "humanness." And, that is a good thing.
May be enough for now, but find some words to inspire yourself among these thoughtful comments.