We’ve Inherited More, But That Doesn’t Make Us Better

Humans don’t fly. Every human in the world knew this for most of history—but I’ve flown. I’ve flown many times, over long distances, at heights and speeds that boggle the mind. How did I do it? I have no idea. I know it had something to do with aerodynamics and jet propulsion and lift and thrust and stuff like that, but mostly I just stepped through the door and when I walked out I was on a different continent. In my pocket I carry a small computer, which I know does something with invisible waves and towers and space satellites and stuff like that, but mostly I just know I can talk to my friends and family through it. I turn the key in my car, and I know there are belts and gears and little petrol explosions that push pistons, but mostly I just sit down and push a little pedal with my foot and wish the other cars would get out of my way. In the kitchen I have hot running water and cold food, and I can make the cold food hot in minutes with some kind of micro-radiation cube.

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What Star Trek Missed

I grew up when Star Trek: The Next Generation was popular, and now I’ve lived to see many of their imagined technologies become real. We’re still not quite there on warp drives or teleporters, but we’re getting closer to the holodeck with virtual reality, and we already have touchscreens, computers you can control with your voice, wireless communication that is constantly available, and handheld devices that can do all sorts of things. I’ve lived to see yesterday’s science fiction become today’s reality.

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Googling Wisdom

Where I grew up we called the library “Fort Book” because it looked like it would stand up well in a siege. Inside, there were rows of filing cabinets housing the card catalogue – one card for each book, organised precisely in deep drawers. If I wanted to learn something, those cards were the indexes of knowledge. Now they’re gone. Now the catalogue cabinets of the world have squeezed themselves into a little bar at the top of the screen in my hand. Getting information has never been easier. No other era of history has had the power I carry in my little glowing rectangle. It’s overwhelming. And it’s easy to assume that having access to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge should make me wise. 

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My Children’s Childhood Is Not Like Mine

Last year on our flight to America, my boys were looking forward to the Pac-Man knockoff game on the in-flight entertainment system before we even boarded. My daughter remembered which movies she had watched two flights before. She had just turned six, and was about to take her fourth trip over the Atlantic.

This was not my childhood.

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I Miss Talking To Strangers

I remember the first time our family got a touchscreen. It was an early GPS model (the kind you had to buy map updates for), but I was too young to drive, so what stood out to me was the touchscreen. I’d seen Star Trek, so I knew what to do. I just never guessed that I would live to see the day when McDonalds had more touchscreens than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Screens for ordering, screens for keeping children entertained at the tables, screens for displaying menus, and don’t forget the personal communication devices everyone carries everywhere. Captain Kirk would be impressed.

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No Mo’ FOMO

These days, the world is literally at our fingertips, connected like never before. We can get instant updates on just about everything – live sports scores from New Zealand, political manoeuvring in Washington or Brussels, and what our holiday-making friends are eating or drinking – right now.

There’s a gateway to all this excitement sitting in my pocket, and it’s vibrating…

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