The world's changing

The world's changing

Er, no it's not

Disruption. Rapid, bewildering technological shifts. New stuff to keep up with. These are considered very modern notions. They’re clichés constantly peddled by anyone with something to flog or attention to grab.

So let’s be contrary. Is it really true that we are living through the greatest acceleration of human scientific progress since mankind first picked up a flint tool? Actually, not really.

Let’s say you were born in 1900 and lived until 1980.

You would have seen the arrival of aircraft, cars, radio, television, cinema, recorded music, nuclear fission, space travel to the moon, semi-conductors, computing, genetic engineering, test tube birth and heart transplants.

That’s astonishing. But, however you look at it, most of what we call modern had been invented by about 1955. The only ones that weren’t are test tube birth and heart transplants. What’s more, most things here are Big Tech, enormous lumps of powerful metal. From horse and cart to space travel.

All we’ve had in recent years is fancier phones and better connected computers. Little more, in fact, that a finessing, popularising and miniaturising of technology that been around for at least 60 years. Most so called exciting change in the 21st century concerns the commercialisation of small things that we fiddle with on the train.

In the wider, real world, things are the same. OK, better availability of good coffee and some really excellent hair products, but all the usual smelly things as they have been since the Industrial Revolution. Same amount of hate, same amount of love. Same amount of stupidity, same amount of genius. Same capacity for creativity; same ability to destroy.

Of course, a mobile phone with its 2 billion semi-conductors touches everyone’s lives in a way that space travel doesn’t. It’s more palpable but not that much of a quantum leap.

Uber, considered an extraordinary piece of technological disruption, isn’t really any more than a big automated mini-cab control room with slightly more honesty about pick up times.

Perhaps the most disruptive thing about a lot of these technologies is the inordinate amount of time we spend obsessing and agonising about them.

Human progress has a habit of turning back on itself. The renaissance of vinyl records has reached such a point that you can get David Bowie’s Hunky Dory in Sainsbury’s in all its shiny, 12 inch glory.

Some young people consider a 24/7 online life to be a mark of the adult worker and strive to avoid it while they can. There’s a burgeoning anti-net generation.

Best get out and look at some trees. They haven’t changed.

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