Technology can make this a better and smarter world. Believe it.
By Don Peppers
No, it is not your imagination. The pace of change has become faster, because technological innovations are happening more rapidly. Every new innovation is the result of a combination of previous advances, so progress accelerates as we have more innovations to work with, more creative minds to work with them and more efficient ways for those creative minds to interact with each other. This means both the quantity and the quality of innovations grow at a combinatorial rate, which is even faster than the exponential progress of computer technology, driven by Moore’s Law.
It is truly a marvelous time to be alive. Consider:
Even after correcting for inflation, the average person today is three times richer than 50 years ago. The majority of billionaires 50 years ago inherited their wealth, while today more than two-thirds have created their own.
The average baby born today can expect to live two months longer than the average baby born on this day last year. If you’re 20 years old today, in fact, the likelihood your grandmother is still alive is greater than the likelihood that your mother would have been alive, had you lived 100 years ago.
More than twice as much food is produced today, per acre of farmed land, as was produced 50 years ago.
Students around the world, no matter how geographically dispersed, can access great teachers and world-renowned centers of education.
We can now communicate instantly with most people across the globe, with just a few taps on a screen. It is far easier to collaborate, stay in touch, find old friends and discover communities of like-minded people. Many jobs are no longer location-dependent. You can work anywhere for anyone and not have an hour-long commute to get to the office.
Just 20 years ago, a well-off U.S. citizen would have owned a watch, alarm clock, camera, CD player, stereo, video camera, game console and cell phone. Today, these devices and more come free on most smartphones.
It’s enough to stress you out and make you a little nuts.
But there’s a sunnier side to this go-go-go mentality and the rapid pace of technological progress. Innovations solve problems and satisfy human desires. Because of technology, fewer people die from disease or hunger; problems, mistakes and natural disasters are easier to deal with; comfort and leisure time has increased; lifespans grow. And these benefits are dispersed throughout the human population.
This is truly a marvelous time to be alive, and it is our technology that has brought us to this point. Far from “de-humanizing” us, new technologies free us to be more human – more empathetic, more caring, more joyful, more socially connected with those around us.
The historical case for optimism
In this book, we are unapologetically optimistic about technology. We are optimistic not because we are optimists by nature (we are), but because no objective view of technology could ever be anything less than optimistic.
Undoubtedly, some people look at the marvels of technology and see only disaster looming. Many of us are predisposed to pay more attention to bad news than to good. If evolution has taught us one thing well, it is that survival depends on being cautious. So in our minds, dangers often register much more vividly than benefits.
But history has not been kind to pessimists. There have been a large number of them over the years, because it isn’t hard to earn fame and fortune by peddling a compellingly pessimistic view. But none of these pessimists has ever been right, or even close to right. Neither Thomas Robert Malthus nor Paul Ehrlich, each of whom predicted world starvation. Not Karl Marx, who predicted world revolution. Try to think of a single novelist, philosopher or futurist whose dystopian predictions about the future have actually come true, or even come close to coming true. There aren’t any.
No objective view of technology could be anything less than optimistic about human evolution.
Yes, technology can create problems, but new innovations seem to solve the problems caused by earlier iterations long before they lead to societal disaster, whether these problems arise from a shortage of resources, or a concentration of power and wealth, or environmental destruction.
But while we are optimistic about technology, and properly so, we are not utopians. Human beings will always improve things, solving problems, having new ideas and creating new wealth. For human society there is no such thing as utopia, in the sense of a “perfect” society that can get no better.
Technology may be giving all of us longer, richer and happier lives, but we can do still better. We can do it faster, more efficiently, more conveniently, more equitably. Technological progress has a sunny disposition. It’s time to enjoy it.