I remember, I must admit vaguely, my feelings when reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley years ago. I remember it was depressing and intriguing. I actually do not remember the specifics of the novel other than the frightening cultural and technological challenges it portrayed. Now I have decided to re-read it along with the two additional ones that followed the first to see if I still feel the same way. I am thinking it will have certain relevance to today's challenges.
Innovation and change, both cultural and technological, are inevitable waves that rock our ship of fate. We cannot stop inventing new things that make life better and easier. How great the invention of computers/internet that opened the world to us from our desktop. We can read articles and watch videos and communicate from all types of places. But with this new access comes dross that wastes precious time (cats playing the piano), inaccurate facts (talking heads with statistics that are selective), lies (propaganda from companies with nasty objectives), bad habits (simple answers to complex questions) and things we do not want innocent minds of children to see until they have fully formed. For the more conservative, the outside world is a direct threat to their beliefs and lifestyle. I remember arguing with an Iranian boy I dated back in college over our Western culture having too much influence on his people. His primary complaint was that Iranians were now eating at tables instead of on the ground on carpets that way they had traditionally done. His view: this was due to bad Western influence. I cannot imagine how apoplectic such conservative groups are today when faced with the Internet. Change and exposure to something challenging over which they have no control is terrifying to them.
I am in the middle of reading Smithsonian's May magazine issue with the theme "The Future is Here." Smithsonian is one of the best lay magazines published today. I usually end up reading it cover to cover and have subscribed for years.
One article discusses the life of American-Egyptian journalist-activist Mona Eltahawy, who risks life and limb literally, to take on the mission of democratizing Egypt. In case you do not follow current events, Egypt's dictatorship which was crushed in the "Arab spring" was replaced in an election by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. "In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss, only worse because you helped get the new boss his job." The future for Egypt is now very tenuous except for brave activists such as Mona and brave comedians such as Bassem Youssef (the middle eastern version of Jon Stewart). But revolution, itself, has taken on a new form and new tools.
Another article in the Smithsonian discusses the tremendous breakthroughs being made with microbial science. Infants that died within weeks due to a deficiency of unidentified bacteria in their guts may soon be saved, not by some fancy new bacteria or identity of a single pathogen, but by a better understanding of the dance between all of the microbial community in our body. Our body has ten trillion of our own cells, but also plays host to another 100 trillion cells . We are only 10% human by cell count. Researches are finding that along with the pro on antibiotics there are some serious cons when antibiotics kill off bacteria in the very young. "Infants exposed to antibiotics in the first six months of life are 22 percent more likely to be overweight as toddlers than unexposed infants." "A lack of normal gut microbes early in life disturbs the central nervous system...and may permanently alter serotonin levels in the adult brain." "Just giving enough food to starving children may not permanently fix their malnutrition unless they also have the 'right' digestive micro-organisms..." I cannot leave this paragraph without mentioning about one treatment for ulcers where a combination of healthy excrement from one person is injected into the sick person. Seriously! With each pro there is a con.
Finally, there is an article on the amazing technology of 3-D printers which not only print plastic toys and odd stuff, but also can print parts to cars and appliances which may render huge warehouses with shelves of various parts obsolete. You may be able to hang on to that oven for a longer time, because the replacement part can be made far into the future. This technology is also printing body part structures and adding cell growth media so that soon we may be able to print organs the way we print cat photos and no one has to wait for organ replacement! Your daughter may be able to design and order custom shoes for the prom that no one else has. You may be able to replace precious broken China in a very reasonable time. BUT as a con, any idiot may soon be able to print his own gun and any revolutionary may be able to create a weapon of mass destruction on his kitchen counter much more easily,
It is a grave new world and while at this time in my life I find such challenges a bit overwhelming, I also admit that I am going to miss not seeing it in the decades ahead.