I originally wrote about many of the concepts in this column 10 years ago, on the occasion of my 49th birthday. This past Tuesday (Dec. 1) was my 59th birthday — just one more year until the Big 6-0. Just like back then, as many of us are wont to do on occasions such as this, a bit of inwardly directed thought has been taking place. Far from mere navel-gazing, birthdays are a time for reflection on one’s place in the grand scheme of things … assuming that there is indeed a grand scheme and the universe is not just the byproduct of gazillions of hydrogen atoms colliding with each other.
As I try to figure out my place in the world, I have to wonder more about this world in which I claim a place. Far from the idyllic future we were promised as children, this brave new millennium world seems more screwed up than I could have imagined as far back as during my formative years in the 1960s and ’70s.
There have been incredible technological advances. Thanks to technology, the world is a much smaller place than it ever was. We all have the world’s greatest research library at our fingertips as the Internet is (more or less) available to everyone. At the touch of a button or touchscreen, we can read about (and actually see and hear) events and happenings from around the globe, often in real time. Information — loads of information — is ready to view, stream, or download whenever and wherever we want it. (Let’s not forget the metric crap-tons of misinformation and abject lies that emanate from questionable sources and conspiracy theorists.) And God forbid if our wireless networks go down — we are useless and adrift without our devices.
Medical and lifesaving technology has also advanced by leaps and bounds. Someday, perhaps in my lifetime, perhaps medical care will finally be available to everyone — and COVID-19 vaccines will be available very soon. Still, one has to wonder about a system where one of the most common surgical procedures is the Brazilian butt lift. Hey, it’s better to look good than to feel good, right?
Sometime during the post-World War II years, as the dawn of the Technology Age began to show glimpses of the kind of future we could achieve, people envisioned the promise of a world free from war, disease, hunger, and the myriad problems that have beset humanity since we evolved into a species that could produce beer. We’d have moon bases, space station vacations, lightning-fast transportation, trips to Mars, peace and understanding between the different peoples and nations on Earth, and flying cars. As the great Donald Fagen once wrote, “There’ll be Spandex jackets, one for everyone.”
Had we as a species kept our eye on the prize, this world would be a dramatically different place. Somewhere along the line, however, the energy-efficient high-speed monorail to Tomorrowland ran right off the tracks.
So, what happened? Even though we became more technologically proficient, we remained human. Imperfect. Greedy. Hateful. Warlike defenders and consumers of territory and treasure. Mouth-breathing Luddites who can’t accept the truth. Alleged public servants who put partisan concerns over the greater good. Wacko nutjobs who use religion and the Supreme Being to justify satanic acts of malice toward their fellow human beings. Merchants of death and destruction.
Gotta love that homo sapiens species.
And that brings me back to the aforementioned reflections upon any one person’s place in this world. What’s it all about, Alfie? What are we supposed to be doing here? Is it enough to try and make a difference locally? Should a person even try to make a difference on a grand scale? Let’s look at a few people last century who did try: John Kennedy – assassinated. Mahatma Gandhi – assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr. – assassinated. And let’s not forget what happened to that radical person 2,000 years ago who dared to suggest that we love one another as we love ourselves.
I wish I had some answers. I suppose we just keep plodding along, and try to make a difference in our respective spheres of influence. Somehow, compared to what I was promised as a child of the 1960s, it’s precious little comfort. Happy freakin’ birthday.