Ahem. So, okay? This technological change in the nineties is supposed to be the biggest thing since fire, and the best we can do for headlines is a tawdry Oval Office sex scandal? You can see the reason for my confusion. Where was this social upheaval that history taught us to expect?
As it happens, this is not the first time I've found myself covering worlds that do not seem to add up. In fact, I've come to welcome such assignments. They allow us to examine what's going on really. My previous books on what makes our world tickThe Nine Nations of North America and Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, which identified realities already in play that were not yet obvious to everyonewere similarly preceded by bouts of unsettling perplexity.
This time, two "aha" moments occurred in the course of my reporting. The first was the reminder that innovation arrives more rapidly than does change in culture and values. Perhaps, it occurred to me, the nineties were like the fifties. The fifties were a period of great technological upheaval missiles with nuclear warheads, mass-produced suburban housing, mainframe computers. From television to Sputnik, the list was endless. And yet the fifties were the boring Eisenhower decade. The cultural upheaval of sex, drugs and rock and rollenabled by The Pill, synthetic psychedelics and the transistordid not occur until the sixties. You see similar upheaval in the earlier half of the century with the dawning of the age of automobiles, refrigeration, radio and telephones. The twenties, too, were a frivolous decade, promptly followed by the social upheaval of the thirties.
Perhaps that is the way history works. Perhaps because culture and values lag technology, when upheaval occurs, it is often of seismic proportions. If that is so now, then the cultural revolution for which we are due is just beginning to emerge. That's how tracing the outlines of that transformation became my beat during the early years of the 21st century.
The second "aha" moment was more formidable. I remember it as being like the scene in Jaws where the captain finally glimpses the shark. He responds, famously: "We're gonna need a bigger boat."
Such a moment came as I realized that this story was not about computers. This cultural revolution in which we are immersed is no more a tale of bits and bytes than the story of Galileo is about paired lenses. In the Renaissance, the big deal was not telescopes. It was about realizing that the Earth is a minor planet revolving around an unexceptional star in an unfashionable part of the universe. Today, the story is no less attitude-adjusting. It is about the defining cultural, social and political issue of our age. It is about human transformation.
The inflection point at which we have arrived is one in which we are increasingly seizing the keys to all creation, as astounding as that might seem. It's about what parents will do when offered ways to increase their child's SAT score by 200 points. It's about what athletes will do when encouraged by big-buck leagues to put together medical pit crews. What fat people will do when offered a gadget that will monitor and alter their metabolisms. What the aging will do when offered memory enhancers. What fading baby boomers will do when it becomes obvious that Viagra and Botox are just the beginning of the sex-appeal industry. Imagine that technology allows us to transcend seemingly impossible physical and mental barriers, not only for ourselves but, exponentially, for our children. What happens as we muck around with the most fundamental aspects of our identity? What if the only thing that is truly inevitable is taxes? This is the transcendence of human nature we're talking about here. What wisdom does transhuman power demand?
Excerpted from Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau Copyright © 2005 by Joel Garreau. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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