Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Is The World Changing?

It has become so automatic to declare that the world is changing, ever more rapidly, so that "change itself is changing," that hardly anyone doubts it. This alarming, difficult world we are entering is supposed to be so different as to disorient those not prepared for it. Technological advances will be so profound as to render our ability to cope with them in jeopardy.

This view is offered both hopefully and warningly, but most often because the writer wishes us to make a particular change right now. You can't stop it, it's going to happen anyway grandma, you'd better get out of the way and let the clever ones take over the wheel. Government (or values, or understanding, or communication) is so on the edge of revolution that it will sweep all the past away. That, at least, is the picture drawn.

We are most aware of what is changing, as we notice most what is moving in our field of vision. Our own focus can delude us in these things.

People are living longer. Yes, but. Some few lived as long as the longest-lived now even centuries ago. More people, many more people, are living long, but not beyond what was already known. Perhaps increased length of life will come soon, bringing with it changes in how we see ourselves and our time on the face of the earth. But if 50 years from now the average life span is 100, and a fair number reach 125, how is that so different from the expectation of 80 years with hope of 100 today? It is some different. We would have more people who know their (few) great-grandchildren well, more people doing interesting things at 100. But is knowing a 10-year old great-grandchild going to be so different from knowing a grandchild?

We will eat bread. We will drink wine. They will be somewhat different and come from many places, but they will still be bread and wine. There will be songs. There will be drawings. There will be conversation. There will be reading. Each of those will be changed by technology, but remain the same thing.

We might come up with many technological imitators of sex, and technological ameliorations of chronic illness, but there will still be pleasure and pain. A deepening in neurological understanding that will change pleasure and pain is imaginable, but everyone reading this will still know pleasure and pain when they are old in much the same way that my grandparents did. We might bend our need for sleep and dreams, fitting them into patterns more congenial, but we will have sleep and have dreams.

How your parents treat you when you are small will continue to be important. How your children turn out will continue to fascinate.

As lighting improved, successive generations kept saying they had banished the darkness. Yet it still gets dark around here, anyway. We can push it back in small places, but darkness continues to obscure objects and light to reveal them.

Dogs will bark. Snow will fall. Plants will grow. We will have homes, and beds, and cupboards. We will need to pray; to confess; to worship.

The central things will change only slowly.

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