Once upon a time, before the Internet was in full bloom, my dad decided to look through the latest U.S. Army guides on countries (now known as “country studies”) and compile economic data to determine people’s standard of living in various countries based on GDP and local buying power.
He did this for fun. It was how he rolled.
Since I had recently been living and studying in Indonesia (and yes, my dad gave me the army guide for Indonesia beforehand), we talked a lot about his research and how it applied to what I had observed. How far a dollar went in Indonesia (about 2,000 rupiah at the time) was different from how far a dollar went at home, after all. And, naturally, it varied depending on where I was on a particular island.
My dad, too, had experience with these sorts of price differences from travel both inside and outside the United States. I wondered a lot about industrialization, what the “normal” rate of development might be, and how fast and how well developing nations and regions could and would develop.
So I took all of those conversations and ponderings into consideration when I read Dylan Mathews’ interview over at Vox. He’s talking to two economic historians about how the standards of living changed with the industrial revolution — and it gets right at a lot of those questions about what preconditions and conditions there are for development.
Non-fungible tokens or NFTs have been a bit a media rage this past year, as a trend, a new investment opportunity, and possibly a silver bullet that contains your daily recommended dose of antioxidants.
Really, I had to post something for Halloween, didn’t I?
Jean Twenge’s longform article in the Atlantic about the damage of smartphones has been making the rounds on my social media channels since it came out in September. It’s stayed with me perhaps because it’s another parenting conundrum to keep one up at night.
Aubrey de Grey, whose prodigious beard is dwarfed by his prodigious research ambitions, famously believes that combating aging is an engineering problem. In other words, medical therapies can be developed and can be worked on now given our current scientific understanding of aging damage.
It’s hard not to read about these goals and think of the countless times aging and immortality have been brought up in works of fantasy and science fiction. Once again, we seem to be living in a science fiction future already — though the possibility of living in a dystopia or even a Robert Ludlum techno-thriller also seems to be in the cards (maybe linked to an international conspiracy dating back to World War II!).
I have to confess, one of the reasons I like to check back on the work of de Grey, et al –besides the fact that I find the prospects both fascinating and frightening– is that I can’t be ignorant of what science fiction is becoming science fact in this area. I mean, if I’m writing stories about future humans, it might be good to know how soon we may reasonably become post-human. One of the conceits in Rogue Tyger is that all the humans in the Imperium are, to a certain extent, transhuman. The idea is that we humans wouldn’t be able to regularly cross the big black of space without some improvements to combat cosmic radiation, prolonged weightlessness, and so on. Not coincidentally, this means that most of the humans age normally, but live well past 100 Earth years old. A 150-year old human would be viewed how we might view an 80-90 year old today.
Of course, the modest increases in human lifespans I was thinking of are nothing compared to what the SENS Research Foundation is after. And before we even get to reversing aging damage, there’s a host of other questions about genetic engineering that might be in our very near future. Check out this interview with Michael Bess in Vox — also by Sean Illing. I don’t know about you, but it’s enough to just explain to my kids about why the sky is blue, let alone potential massive changes in how humans love.
Guess I better get to writing that fiction while it’s still charming fiction.
I have a long, long list of articles I save to read later… and eventually, later becomes “now.”
Alan Levinovitz has a piece in Vox from March 2016 that is sure to chill certain technophiles to the bone: going through modern life without a cell phone.
Missing a friend’s birthday party was my final impetus to get a cell phone originally. My confusion about the location would have been solved with a two minute phone call or a couple of texts. Using a cell phone to actually alert emergency responders a few years later rather cemented its utility. And now, the smartphone is for me what it is for so many people: a handy pocket computer/digital assistant/reference guide.
What I like about Levinovitz’s article is that it is not a holier-than-thou screed against mobile phones, but a use case in how someone gets by in the modern world without a smartphone… or any cell phone at all. It makes one think about how much the normalization of cell phone use is really necessary.