Have you every wondered what the meaning of it all is? What is humanities purpose in the universe? I do and I have. Recently my thinking has crystallized so I wanted to put it down here.
If you look at the large trends over history, you will see many but there are several to watch on the macro scale.
- Population – It’s been going up but the curve is starting to flatten out. I’ve read that might happen when we reach about 10 billion people.
- Resources – I am in no way a green head but I do realize that many resources are finite on the Earth.
- Standard of Living – The standard of living has been increasing rapidly in the past 150 years. Increases in productivity allow people to work less and get more for it constrained by resources of course.
- Productivity – The productivity of workers is skyrocketing with the new technologies. This leads to increased leisure time.
- Creativity – Humans have always been creative beings but technology now will put that capacity into overdrive.
- Education – this is the key to maximizing human potential, but thus far is falling far short of that.
So what I want to do is to take each issue and then sort of add them all up to show where I think humanity is going to go. Let’s start with the first three issues. Tomorrow I’ll deal with the last 3 and then Friday I’ll write about where I think this all leads.
The increase in human population has been driven by many factors. People are living longer which of course increases the number of us. It also extends the time a person can have children. Increases in food production allow larger populations. There was a time not too long ago where certain people were saying humans would keep multiplying until we were standing shoulder to shoulder. Turns out, the trend is starting to flatten out. In fact in certain countries (mostly in the West) the birth rate is far below what is necessary to grow the population, much less sustain it. A country needs a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman to just keep the population the same. Spain, Russia, Italy and Japan all have birth rates far below that. Spain for example had a birth rate of 1.3 in 2011. This means that in a single generation, the population of that country will be cut in half (excluding migration changes). Do you know where the highest birth rates are? Yemen has a rate of 5.09 in 2011. Why is this? My theory is that life is too easy now in the Western world. The government provides everything you need so you have time to do fun stuff. As a Father, I know that raising children is fun too but it’s hard work.
I think people need challenges to keep them fully alive (and having children). We need them so bad that we invent ones we can care about. (note: raising awareness about something doesn’t actually fix it)
Humanity is using the resources of the Earth as never before. Technology is really just a descendant of the spears and sticks the cave men used long ago. Technology has been used to extend the reach and capabilities of our bodies and minds. This process is speeding up and having a larger impact on the world. 200 years ago a person could give a speech to an auditorium and reach several thousand people. Today a kid can put a video on YouTube and have 100 million views overnight. Oh, and do it for free. Once we get practical realtime voice translation then the whole world can into the same party. Ideas will spread at light speed, driving progress forward. Fortunately the Internet doesn’t take too many resources but the power to drive it all will increase. This consumes resources. (BTW, I think eventually our energy grid goes solar thus disaggregating.)
Oh, and Economics is how the distribution of resources is managed. (Remember, everything goes back to economics).
Standard of Living
The standard of living has been skyrocketing for 100 years. More people were lifted out of poverty in the 20th century than in the rest of history combine. The whole concept of a middle class came into existence. Even so, there are whole populations in the world that are on the verge of a much higher standard of living. Part of an improved standard of living is more disposable income and more free time. This will create more travel, which uses energy and resources. These leisure activities are one of the biggest perks of a higher standard of living.
Obviously this will drain resources.
There are two possible responses to this. 1. We keep them in a lower standard of living. 2. We find more resources.
Tomorrow I’ll look at Productivity, Creativity and Education.
Update: Here’s part 2