Sunday, October 4, 2009

7 Things We Did Right

I have been informed recently that some of my blog posts have been kind of negative. It seems I am prone to focus too much on the bad things that are happening in the world, and I am always more than willing to accuse the human race of being a bunch of evil, dim-witted, mean-spirited malcontents. They say that "stupid" appears to be my favorite word, and if that is their charge then I am guilty. It's just that I have found more to be worried about in the world and less to be cheerful for. But, never let it be said that I am not open to the criticisms of others, however misinformed and unenlightened they might be. In an attempt to bring a more positive, uplifting mood to this blog, I am going to mention some things that human beings have in fact done correctly and well during their tenure on this fair planet. And, because I just can't resist mentioning them, some of the not-so-good things that have evolved from these strokes of genius:

1) Agriculture. The domestication of plants and later animals permitted early man to stop being nomadic tribes, constantly moving from one source of food to the other, and to stay in one place for an extended period of time. This allowed settlements, villages, towns and later cities and nations to form. Also, it allowed man to manage his crops and increase yield and production.
DOWNSIDE: Fast-food restaurants, diets, Chinese food in a can.

2) Language. The creation of language was a great leap forward in the evolution of humanity. It is quite significant because it indicated an ability to develop abstract concepts, and objects as well as ideas could be quantified and represented by words, which other mammals probably can't do. It also allowed for a means for knowledge to be passed from person to person and was a step forward in man's unceasing quest to bring order to a very chaotic world.
DOWNSIDE: Political speeches, people who won't ever shut up, Valley Girl talk.

3) Writing. After the creation of language the next logical step is to find a way to capture and preserve it. Writing codifies language and makes it more uniform. It also allows learning to be stored and passed intact to other colleagues and also to future generations of people, without relying on fuzzy recollections. Writing is the process that takes thoughts out of our heads and makes them available to everyone else, and that is a big deal.
DOWNSIDE: Penmanship classes in Catholic school, graffiti, plastic pocket protectors.

4) Printing Press. Having a language and a way to write it down turns out to be a good thing, so it stands to reason that being able to do it on a massive scale would be a really great thing. The printing press allowed the written word to be shared inexpensively and efficiently with many, many people who had had no previous access. A long time ago reading and writing were the sole purview of wealthy aristocrats or monks squirreled away in monasteries. With the printing press, learning and knowledge were put in the reach of the general population, which encouraged more reading and learning and the world suddenly expanded for everyone. All this on the day Johannes Gutenberg invented his movable-type press. Also, pornography was invented two days later.
DOWNSIDE: Junk mail, the Arizona Republic, Harlequin romance novels.

5) Media and Mass Communications. After the invention of the printing press, newspapers were not far behind. Newspapers appeared everywhere, and for the first hundred years after the formation of this country were the main way that people learned about their new nation and the world. When radio was invented it created a much more widespread and immediate way to disseminate news and information. The telephone brought wide-area communication into everyone's home, and the invention of television meant that words and pictures from halfway around the world could come beaming into your living room. Now, the whole world and even parts of outer space can be enjoyed in the comfort and privacy of your own boudoir, along with tasty snacks like candy and popcorn.
DOWNSIDE: Telemarketing, conservative talk radio, Fox News Channel

6) Space Exploration. Everyone's eyes turned skyward in the late 1950s when the-then Soviet Union propelled a little, round, antenna-studded metal ball into orbit around the Earth. Sputnik, Russian for "traveling companion", was the first artificial satellite of our world. The space race was on, and it captivated the imagination of everyone as few things ever had before. Discoveries and amazing pictures came fast and thick, all culminating on the stifling July night forty years ago when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon. It was impossible to watch the stunning drama unfold on television and not have an overwhelming sense that a mightily important piece of history was being made. Today, robotic spacecraft have taken us strolling on the surface of Mars, gliding through the rings of Saturn, and out to dip our toes in the frigid edge of interstellar space. I can't wait to see what the next couple of decades will bring, and we are only taking our first baby steps out of our planetary cradle.
DOWNSIDE: Conspiracy dimwits who think the Moon landing was faked, short-sighted morons in Congress who are constantly slashing NASA's budget.

7) The Internet. Not many things have changed our culture and our world as radically, quickly and thoroughly as the Internet. It unites the entire world in an interconnected web of knowledge and communication, and brings incomprehensible amounts of information to everyone's fingertips. The Internet has changed everything, from entertainment to commerce to our daily lives (certainly mine), and has quickly positioned itself as an indispensable part of everything we do.
DOWNSIDE: Spam, computer viruses, Twitter, hackers, long-winded blogs by self-important people with too much time on their... hey WAIT!

These are just some of the things that mankind appears to have done fairly well. There certainly are other things, but I'll end my list with these. Next, I'll take a look at things that mankind has done with all great and good intentions, and somehow (but unsurprisingly) managed to screw up royally.

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