How far we’ve come
I think about semi-pointless things a lot. They cross my mind when I am driving, showering, and even while I’m sleeping (I know because I wake up in the middle of the night with them on my mind). These thoughts are almost like fads. They will come in from seemingly nowhere and, for a time, dominate everything you see. This is about one of those.
Several weeks ago, I started thinking about it. I have no idea where the germ that starts such a process comes from, but, like an oncoming cold, it starts off slight and grows to be un-ignorable. I would catch myself looking up at an airplane streaking by in the sky as I took the garbage out and think, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that we can fly?” I’d come back in and by the time I was through the door, I would forget about it. But I mean really, isn’t that still amazing? It is insane that I am sitting here on my work break typing this on a machine that is connected to the rest of the world. We have come an incredibly long way in human history in such a short time, and it keeps speeding up.
Last Sunday I watched the new Cosmos show with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and, wouldn’t you know it, the first episode was about a lot of this. When you compare the amount of time humans have been around to things on a cosmic scale, it is insane. We are less than a blip. But, let’s not even talk about it on that scale. Let’s talk about just how far we’ve come in sort of recent history, and how it is speeding up.
So, do you like ancient Egyptian sh**? Well, not literally sh** … no one likes that … although ancient dinosaur turds seem to be all the rage … so maybe King Tut’s fossilized bowel movements would be worth millions too … I don’t know. But anyway … back to whatever I was talking about. The Egyptians (or maybe their epic alien overlords?) built the pyramids almost 5,000 years ago. Again, just a blip on a cosmic level, but on a human timeline that is a hell of a long time ago. Now, let’s skip ahead a year or two to put that in perspective to say, oh, I don’t know, 70 AD. In 70 AD, almost 2,000 years ago, the ancient Romans built the Colosseum. That means that when they were constructing it, the pyramids at Giza were as old to them as ancient Rome is to us now. Crazy. So yeah, they are old. In a span of 2,400 years or so, humans went from just figuring out how to make papyrus and boats to having astrolabes, crankshafts, roads, and turbines.
That is pretty impressive in itself, but 2,400 years is still a long time to us humans. Let’s talk about some things more ‘recent’. These are the ones I have been thinking about lately, and that blow my mind.
In 1876, true life cowboys and Indians were waging war on one another across western America (yeah, yeah … native Americans). General Custer, a guy you might have heard a time or two in high school history, lost an infamous battle and died. One of the Indian war leaders you may have also heard of here and there, Crazy Horse, was on the opposing side. I know, you probably didn’t come here for a history lesson, but stick with me.
Now, skip ahead to 1969. On the 20th of July, 1969, a human being set foot on our moon. There were people who were alive when Custer had his final stand at Little Bighorn who were still alive in 1969 and watched Neil Armstrong ride a rocket-ship from Earth and walk out onto the surface of another celestial body. [small break for mind explosion]. In the span of a single human lifetime, we went from cowboys, horses, buggies, saloons and all that other sh** you see on old Clint Eastwood movies, to TVs, satellites, and spacemen. That is insane. The evolution of technology and scientific advancement in general has been growing exponentially.
There is a plethora of predictions out there for the future. Some are ridiculous, and some are too cautious. Of course, no one knows any of it for certain. The future is not yet written. Past predictions of where we will be by a certain year have historically been super wrong. And no, I am not just talking about The Jetsons and Back to the Future. (Where’s my fu**ing hover cars, Doc?)
Here’s a good ‘recent’ example. In 1903, the New York Times predicted that building a flying machine capable of transporting a single person would be possible (nailed it! … ?) in as few as 1 – 10 MILLION years. Imagine their surprise when later that very same year, the Wright Brothers flew their plane into history books. Then, a few years later in 1908, it was said that no flying machine would ever be able to fly across the entire Atlantic ocean. Was that the New York Times being dumb again? Didn’t they learn their lesson? No. Orville Wright made that prediction after proving a different one wrong five years earlier. In 1919, this bold prediction was also shattered.
And now, just look at us. We walk around with our smart phones and tablets; we send mail across the world in a fraction of a second; we write blog posts on a machine that would have taken up a football field not that long ago; we travel faster than the speed of sound across the world without giving it a second thought. We have come a hell of a long way awfully fast. Sure, it was a slow process getting to that tipping point. Our narrow ‘memory’ of humankind generally goes back to the dawn of king’s and civilizations–some 10,000 years out of a hundred thousand or more. These advances have been a long time coming, and they seem to be ramping up.
So, the next time you are annoyed at how long you have to drive, think of those who lived before cars. Some of them are still alive. When you get pissy because your text message is taking twenty seconds to go through, think of the people who had to wait weeks for a message to get to another state in the same country. I wonder what things future generations will take for granted that we struggle with today?
It is amazing just how far we’ve come in recent years. I wonder whether that exponential growth will continue. As I said before, there are some bold predictions for the future of our species and the technology we use. I plan to post about that in my next blog article. For now, I will just say that I am one that does take a lot of it for granted. I am glad I live in this time period, regardless the things I say sometimes.
But seriously, where’s my fu**ing hover car!?