Part one of a five-part series on the technological, environmental, and socio-political conditions shaping our world today and tomorrow.
We live in a new era. An era in which questions like “Global warming: real or fake?” are credulously presented for debate. An era in which climate change denial threatens to undo the Paris Climate Agreement and environmental disaster evacuation mechanisms come baked into infrastructure. An era in which foreign agents hack our financial institutions or worse, derail our democracies. An era in which congestion in cities renders us sick, dirty, and necessarily late for everything. This is an era in which unseasonably nice weather is not celebrated for what it signifies: this year we mark our hottest on record.
This is the darkness that looms in 2016.
For some, it is a matter of looking beyond our planet for humanity’s next resource-rich land to conquer. Their reaction raises a fundamental question: Do we rally around a mission to abandon our planet, or do we stay the course on Earth, and look to technology to lead us to our next great evolution?
The subject of technology itself generates controversy. There are those for whom technology marks the end of humanity, the beginning of automation, and the loss of real human connection. Technology has let us down before, they say. It has stolen our identities, our money, and our dignity. And as the old adage goes, the best predictor of the future is the past.
Even for those enamored with technology, embracing it freely demands a certain caution. For instance, we may all agree that we need smartphones, but we must also agree that their use—or indeed our dependence on them—raises the significant need for cyber security. It is as if we must make art of the balance between an appreciation for the graces of tech innovation and a certain disdain for it.
It is true that with technological advancement comes the need for greater responsibility. We cannot simply let a tech-empowered future happen without our vigilance. But to deny its power for positive change is to succumb to simple fears of dystopia. We believe we must face such fears head on.
The advent of technology is an opportunity to design something better, to break free of the shackles to which we have blindly surrendered. After all, effective applications have afforded even the naysayers an enhanced quality of life. They have produced tools to move knowledge across vast distances, to travel to meet loved ones, to bolster energy efficiency across industries, to make food drops in war-torn lands. As with anything new, technological innovation is an iterative process—one that tends to fumble its way, awkwardly at times, to its next evolution.
But one day all the fumbling stops and a once simple idea becomes an indispensable tool for the masses. In that moment, we wipe our collective memory of a world before the iPhone, or the light bulb, or Google Maps. We take these developments for granted despite the ways in which they have dramatically changed our lives by being the purveyors of more information, more daylight, and ultimately more time.