Manic Fringe


The personal blog of the one and only Luc Gendrot. Internet Superhero. Not really.

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How stupid are we going to look to our grandchildren?

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

This old greek proverb is surely something you’ve seen bandied about when people are considering how we should make policy decisions. It also raises the question of how our great grandchildren will judge the era we live in.

In just the last 100 years institutions and ways of living that seem archaic indeed even barbaric to us now were the norm. Technologies that were once completely unknown have become second nature to many of us. Society has changed and is still changing at an accelerated rate compared to generations past.

Take as an example the invention of the telephone. The first telephone company (AT&T) was started in 1878, 2 years after the invention of the telephone by Bell. It wasn’t until the 1970s that cordless phones (a la this dinosaur) were introduced, nearly 100 years later and by 1987 the number of cell phone service subscribers exceeded 1 million. In 2003 the first blackberry smartphone was introduced, and in 2008 the first generation of iPhones hit the market.

The point I’m trying to make in detailing this (very simplistic) timeline, is that it only took 30 years for mobile devices to go from the bricks we attached to our cars to the tiny all-in-one personal computers we carry around in our pockets and that we all practically depend on to function, and those 30 years have brought changes in our society that nobody could have predicted.

Many have rightly pointed out the tremendous impact technologies that we now take for granted can have on our society. So if the ubiquity of technology in just the timespan it has taken Generation Y to grow up has created such a massive change in our group-think in such a short amount of time, think of how much future generations social norms will change with the amount of advancements that are yet to come.

Now, no doubt when somebody mentions the ubiquity of technology and how it has changed our culture, images of teens sitting around with their faces glued to their twitters, instagrams, and facebooks leap into your mind. It’s doubtful that the images that came to your mind had much to do with public policy, governmental practices, or world building of any kind. And it’s that fact that scares me.

It scares me because it is this humble student’s firm belief that we have, and have had, the capability to solve many of the worlds issues for a dozen years now. Without politicizing it too much, the failure of our policymakers to fully utilize and apply the scientific advances of the past few decades is staggering. Our collective (potentially world altering and beneficial) actions are marred by bloated bureaucracy and selfish political maneuvering of the sort that our children and theirs will surely look down on.

The rate of advancement seen in the tech sector is colossal, and dwarfs the analogous amount of change in the government sector. And unlike the young’uns whose entire social existence has morphed, the government is still People have long demanded a more open-source government, and in the wake of the NSA leak by Edward Snowden recently the implications of such a shift should be on everybody’s mind as an important and far-reaching issue to be discussed.

Our culture may be changing rapidly in the social realm, but our government seems to be only a reactionary one, attempting to solve only the short-term and petty problems that affect us right now, with little to no regard for the future of the planet and the people who inhabit it. In determining our place on this planet, and in living up to the obligation we have to ourselves as humans we have failed to adapt as quickly or as effectively to the changing technological landscape as the generation whom we laud for their reliance on technology. We need to start taking a page from their book, embrace the technology we have. Not only that but we need to look to the future of technology and plan accordingly.

The whole topic leaves me worried about just how incredibly stupid and wasteful and selfish we’re going to look as our story is inscribed in the annals of history. We have massive capability at our fingertips, and yet it seems only profit margins and the bottom line color the lense through which those in power see the future.

I am yet hopeful that as the older generations are slowly but surely filtered out of their positions of power, the young usurpers who have grown up in the communications age can, with their completely different worldview, fix what problems their short-sighted predecessors have wrought. Until then I guess I’ll just tweet about it.

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