We live in an era of breathtaking progress.
The information age has captivated our collective imagination for nearly five generations. We have celebrated innovations across industries, from retail to healthcare, philanthropy to transport.
Global connectivity birthed whole new industries. Today’s children won’t remember an era before email, or chat or ubiquitous photos and videos. Google lets us forget the marvel of instantaneous always-on global data access. Social media embed us in one another’s lives, yielding unintended consequences that change the face of our social contract, not least of which the voluntary end of privacy.
How did we get here?
Step back, and remind yourself. This is just the latest wave.
We roll forward in waves.
When you live it day-to-day, human progress feels like slow, deliberate toil, a tale of dogged pursuit. We fail to notice – or easily forget – that this is just the latest in successive historic waves of innovation.
Our forebears harnessed language, in pictures, words and numbers, and used it to understand and describe their world, and to work together to harness nature – domesticating crops and animals in the agricultural revolution of prehistory. Their offspring bent the material world to their will, from the iron age through the industrial revolution.
Giants came before us to crack the mystery of our place within the world, and the quantum world’s place within us.
Along the way, we liberated ourselves.
Beginning over 30,000 years ago our distant ancestors built on a series of long, slow and ultimately transformative waves of innovation. These freed humanity from ignorance, hunger, tyranny and want. Each of these five waves continue; they compound to push us forward and upward at an accelerating rate.
Today we chip away at the mystery of our own human organism, applying the diagnostic tools accumulated over nearly four centuries of rationalist renaissance in math and science, chemistry, physics and biology.
Belatedly we recognize the threat we’ve become to our own environment. We now come full circle back to harnessing nature – the lightning that electrifies our grid, the sun, wind and waves that supplant fire to warm our hearths.
In every age, and with every new wave of human progress, the creative force destroys incumbents – doomed and consumed by their ignorance, unwillingness or inability to adapt. Grand structures of wood and stone pale in the shadow of towering steel and glass.
Victims of the present shudder as the next wave threatens oblivion.
Catch the next wave
Fortunately, as history reveals, we are a uniquely consequential mammal because we are curious and aspirational. We want to know where the sun goes, why the stars move, and who’s flinging that lightning around the sky. And we aspire to understand
In short, we are not victims of fate. We make our own future, one day at a time.
And with rare exception, momentary blips on the growth curve, human society has always found a way to make the world more habitable and hospitable. We enjoy life, liberty and opportunity far exceeding our ancestors. And if we can overcome our own shortsightedness, our distant descendants will say the same.
So, fear not. Rise above the current roar and look to the horizon. The next wave is out there. It’s coming. And it’s ours to harness.
Wave 1 – Language. Wave 2 – Mathematics, Wave 3 – Taming Nature, Wave 4 – Taming Ourselves, and Wave 5 – Free Markets. And then there’s the water swirling around us now as Wave 6 looms. Let’s ride.