Sharing some thoughts that have been percolating under the surface after watching way too many hours of the History Channel. I’ve been rather torn over all the progress we’ve been making in every area of human endeavor since, well… probably since we first developed agriculture and animal husbandry many thousands of years ago. We have, without question, tamed the natural world and risen to a position of dominance greater than any species since the dinosaurs. But was it all worth it?
Try to forget for a moment just how ridiculous that question sounds. Of course it was worth it, right? Our ancestors who lived back before we developed writing probably had an average life expectancy of barely 40 and we’ve nearly doubled that now. One bad cut that we would handle today with a few stitches and some Bactine could lead to massive infections and death. Instead of caves and an eternal threat from the elements, most of us live in reasonably climate controlled environments.
But by the same token, it’s hard to ignore all of the negative factors that came along for the ride. Man was always fairly warlike as far as we know, but technology allowed us to slay each other with ferocious abandon. The earliest wars between tribes probably involved a few dozen people or less, fighting over some farm animals or women with weapons that were frequently non-lethal. By the time of the American Civil War, we proved we could deliver nearly 8,000 dead and another 50,000 injured in a single day. And then we built nukes.
But it’s not even the big, sweeping changes where we might have some regrets. The development of computers allowed us to perform calculations in milliseconds which used to take some egghead in front of a giant chalkboard days or weeks. But now we all have to deal with remembering passwords, ducking malware viruses and don’t even get me started again on the possible threat of sentient Artificial Intelligence. Our modern conveniences are wonderful, but we’re managing to pollute the air and the oceans at rates that may make paradise unlivable eventually.
Cars allow us to travel at high speed but we spend exorbitant amounts of resources figuring out how not to die when they crash. We interact with hosts of people from across the globe and then wind up fighting diseases we’d never run into before. Machines allow us to grow massive amounts of food with very few workers, but we’re totally unprepared for what would happen if all of those machines stopped working. And almost nobody remembers how to farm the old fashioned way. We’ve come to rely more and more on increasingly advanced technology just to survive. But the more complex a system becomes, the more ways there are for it to fail.
In the end, technology has produced wondrous advancements in every imaginable field of endeavor. But it has also set us upon a treadmill of endlessly struggling to solve a series of daunting problems that are totally of our own creation. Does that mean that I’d want to go back to living in a cave, gathering nuts and berries, hunting rabbits with a sling and dodging sabertooth cats? Nope. I probably wouldn’t last more than a few days at my age. But sometimes it does seem as if we’ve always been our own worst enemy. And the more our technology advances, the more dangerous of an enemy we become.