Saturday, January 22, 2011

the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket

I'm an optimistic person. There are a few key reasons for that:
  1. I believe we have a great deal of control over our destinies. (If life sucks, you're not stuck with whining about the oppressive ├╝berclass, change it.)
  2. I believe in the collective ability of human beings to do what needs to be done, largely because:
  3. I believe in the power of markets; i.e., the combined power of self-interest and free trade to lead the world along a steadily pareto-improving path. (If society wants something, someone will realize it and make money providing it. Everyone wins.)
  4. I believe that our gut instincts pointing us in the right direction will ultimately overpower any ephemeral digressions. (The 80's happened but we didn't get stuck there.)
  5. I prefer to think of the world as a unified progressive whole, rather than a set of isolated failed endeavors. (Rome fell but humanity didn't.)
The rest of this is really just about #4, but I like lists and comprehensiveness, so there you go.

In an era of rapid change like the current technological/information revolution, it often seems that the resilience, or at least rate of adaptation, of our species has met its match. In only a century, 0.05% of human history, we've gone from a primarily agrarian society without ubiquitous electricity, antibiotics, plumbing, and processed foods to a society that does most of its living and working on computers, goes to gyms because it doesn't get enough exercise baling hay, and pays a premium for low-calorie foods because overeating is a bigger concern than starvation. And now that we do more socializing on facebook than in person and more writing via txting than snail mail, the doomsayers are quick to warn us that we will soon no longer be able to socialize functionally or write coherently and society as we know it will disintegrate.

Not so. That may be the initial visible effect of new technology but we are adapting to our technology rapidly. First we come up with something that has an immediate obvious benefit. Then we quickly adopt that thing before worrying about what undesired side effects it may have. Then we slowly behaviorally adapt to that thing so that we can make the most of its benefits while mitigating its downsides.

Lo and behold, our social instincts imply that we merely use the internet as a more effective means of communication and organization to facilitate our in-person interactions, and children are growing up better writers with the plethora of practice they get online in forms more varied than the essay to the teacher, and social networks (by which I mean, dating sites, etc), rather than the virus infecting all human relationships that people like to think of them as or the last hope of desperate social outcasts that even their users sheepishly partially believe, they facilitate efficient sorting of people, in our newly dense population centers, into happier, more compatible, pairs and groups.

So stop worrying and make the best of it.

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