It's incredible, really.
Sitting comfortably with my laptop, I'm able to type these words, and with a press of a button, I can send them around the planet instantly.
I can be walking along a path in what seems like the middle of nowhere, hold a small device that I pull from my pocket, and immediately begin a video chat with a friend on another continent. The call can even involve multiple people, all in different places around the world.
I can pull out the same "smartphone" and ask it to identify a bird call that I can't recognize, and instantly summon the expertise of dozens ornithologists to respond with not only its name, but videos of the bird and all the information imaginable. And I can instantly identify any other plant or animal, answer any question that pops into my mind and translate the information into any language I choose, instantly.
We used to say that even the most common of us had a better life, with more power, than any king who ever lived, just by virtue of how blessed we are to live in our modern era. But given the advances of technology, when we can fly anywhere, tackle health issues with modern medicine and communicate instantly, with access to limitless information at our fingertips, how can we say this isn't true?
We take for granted this electronic device you're now looking at, just as we forget, as we're cruising down the highway at 65 miles per hour, often daydreaming, how astonishing our lives have become.We can talk into our device and order online anything we can afford to pay for and insist that it be delivered the following day, from anywhere.
Now we can even have seemingly meaningful conversations with ChatGPT, as well as having artificial intelligence write reports for us expertly that draw on the gamut of human knowledge, sort of, and watching it create works of art that may leave us in awe.
In fact, artificial intelligence, as the pinnacle of our own human inventiveness, may be the greatest irony of all. And, as some experts in the field have suggested, it could well prove our undoing. The reality that AI is flexing its gray matter as student demand for the humanities is plummets is beyond disturbing. It's the handwriting on the wall written by a robotic ersatz hand -- the matrix of our genius seemingly spawns our downfall.
This theater of the absurd we're in stars not only the reprogramming of our minds and habits, as we're forced to respond to robotic prompts with passwords and attempt to prove we're not the robots; there's also the growing sense that too many humans we depended on have traded in their humanity for cynicism and cruelty.
So just as we realize wondrous possibilities, including human genome sequencing that promises cures for a constellation of serious afflictions and helped with swift development of a COVID vaccine, and dramatic advances in space exploration and discoveries, we simultaneously face a vast multiplication of daunting, existential crises.
For one, the same social media that connects us instantly to one another has spawned a network of funhouse mirror distortions of truth itself. That's metasticized very real threats to our democracy itself, and the ability of demagogues to spin lies and spawn legions of fanaticized followers who wallow in deranged fantasies. Half the population is drugged on a Virtual Reality loop to take us over the cliff. And, perhaps must frightening of all, some political leaders seem to have concluded that they would rather perpetuate these fantasies than come back down to Earth as a way of enhancing their own power.
The world is on a collision course, thanks to climate change deniers who buck all of the scientific research that's as clear as the sun up above. Not the massive fires in the West, not the record-breaking heat that's intensifying across the planet nor the permafrost nor the steadily rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- none of it is accepted as proof as what's coming.
Glaciers melt, as do mountaintop snowcaps, bees and bats disappear, along with other species, the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes mount, and coastlines give way to rising sea levels as massive flooding and drought wreak on desparate populations. What's lacking is word leadership to confront these interrelated calamities.There's jaw-dropping deception by a fossil fuel industry Hell-bent on delivering us to a dystopian future. And then, of course, there's the escalating threat of nuclear annihalation, the rise of dictatorships around the world (and close to home) , and what seems to be a disconnection between the digital and natural worlds.
Instead of honoring the wonder of the universe and with grace and gratitude, we're awash in public cynicism, intentional deception and deliberate undermining of potential toward human equality and justice.
So here we are, poised between realization of an astonishing techno-utopia and what seems like chaos as usual, instead of the normalcy we used to hang our hats onto without all the anxiety provoked by the deliberate attacks on any convention, like decency or civility.
Somewhere between the two, it's wise to remember what really counts.
And allow time to bask in the wonder of it all.
Posted: to Poor Richie's Almanac on Thu, Jun 8, 2023
Updated: Mon, Jun 19, 2023