Talking About The Future

(3/10) The future! An amazing and wonderful place or just a maze of confusion and turmoil? I am not a futurist, scientist, psychic or sociologist. I am someone who believes that reflecting upon our hopes for the next two, five, ten or more years may help us in getting through the tough times we face right now. Ahead are what I'll call conversation starters. You may agree, disagree, think some are stupid or impossible or may find that a few may sound pretty good. Regardless, what I really hope you do is talk to others about your reactions to these ideas. Perhaps as a result our path ahead can have real and meaningful direction.

Paper or Power?

A good indicator of how well we are doing a decade from now might be found beside the sink in a public restroom. Are we all using those electric hand driers that some of us hate or is there still concession being made to the impatient who simply must grab one of those forest felling, germ spreading, landfill bloating paper towels? Whether we opt for paper or power will say a lot about us. If we humans go the route of power driers we are not only helping the environment but our souls. Power driers force us to slow down, pay attention to what we are doing in the moment and they reward us with warm soft hands like no paper towel can deliver. Saving the environment, slowing down a notch, living in the moment, enjoying a basic bodily sensation. That's a good future. What do you think?

Space, The "used to be" Frontier?

When I was a kid I thought space exploration was the coolest thing going. But I grew up. Extended space travel for people is not only expensive but there is as yet no way to prevent the muscular atrophy that is experienced due to long periods in zero gravity. And how about that price tag? Then again there is all the technology we've gotten from the space program. Well that's a two edged sword. Some advances have been great, but who can afford them? The people who can pay for them I suppose, not me. And then there's the whole notion that technology is in a runaway state. Accelerated technology that is running away with us. What caused accelerated technology? Oh yeah. The space program. Before bridging the space between us and the stars maybe we need to look more earnestly at the space that separates us from one another. What do you think?

Education -Please Remember to Remember

I asked a friend of mine who has a PHD in Education what he saw in the future for education. Basically he expects a revolution in how we learn brought on by technology. He imagines a classroom in which information, images and computer power at the fingertips of educators and students will change the very way we learn. I don't have any problem with that as long as we don't forget the need to reclaim the power of memorization. I know, memorization went out with reciting the times tables, naming the presidents and all those other dinosaurs of years gone by. But consider this. The best computers need more than the best hardware and programs, they need memory. Without the capacity to store information, no information can be processed. I say all ahead with technology in the classroom but please train, drill and practice the next generations so they will have the memory capacity to put to work all those concepts they have access to. What do you think?

Medicine- Enough Wonder Drugs, How About the Wonder of Compassion?

Maybe if enough people become ashamed of living in the richest, most powerful nation on the planet that has the least efficient and effective health care delivery system in the industrialized world things will be different. Health care for all. If that's our future we'll be right up with where most of the rest of the industrialized world is today.

In the last fifty years we moved from regarding natural, traditional and spiritual remedies as "alternative" to considering them "complementary." That's progress. Maybe in another fifty we'll call it "integral" medicine. Can your Ivy League educated physician say, "acupuncture?" That would really be progress. What do you think?

Music and the Arts

Three years ago I was delighted when I heard that Marin Alsop had become the Baltimore Symphony's music director. But despite her intellect and charisma (which rivals that of Lenny Bernstein) we need not just someone but something to revitalize the world of the performing and visual arts in years to come. Many orchestras have experimented with video projections during performance and some even with audience interactive compositions (the audience uses clickers to vote for which direction the composition will take). I hope that new media will enable visual arts to come out of the museum (some artists like Chrysto are doing this already). Or imagine a play in which each audience member has an opportunity to interact with the cast during the show. Arts are not an extra. They are a reflection of who we are and a catalyst for what we will become. What do you think?

And Then There's That 2012 Thing-Will It Be Mayans 1, Universe 0?

Here's what we know. The Mayan Calendar (which is really a mosaic of calendars) reaches a point of fundamental synchronization in late December 2012. That simply means that all their little calendars that make up their big calendar will all come back to point zero (kind of like a new year's celebration that occurs once every several thousand years). That's no big deal. It's just how their calendar is designed.

We also know that at that time an astronomical alignment of colossal proportion will take place when the earth and sun align with the center line of our Milky Way Galaxy. And, just to sweeten the pot the earth will also have completed its once every so many thousand year axial wobble. All of that is scientifically proven. It's the way things are. The only amazing thing there is that the Mayan had such sophisticated knowledge. No big deal. It's how the planets and stars move.

The final thing is the tough and controversial one. The Mayans predict that things will change at that time in ways that will make for a future totally different from the present.

This is the sicky one. Is it the end of everything? Will humanity be wiped off the planet? Will there be various natural catastrophies, wars, epidemics, etc? And what should we do? Dig a hole? Skip the December payment on the Beemer? Only buy yellow bananas after December 20th?

While no futurist, psychic, apocalyptic, scientist or self respecting Mayan will weigh in with absolute certainty as to what's going to happen, the general consensus among folks who have studied this thing from an objective perspective is that the sun will set and rise again on a new day with no apparent change. But they do hope that years later people will look back at the time around "the great alignment" and say, "you know, this is when things really started to change." We can just hope that it will have been for the better. What do you think?

Economies of What?

The last century saw a shift from an economy of subsistence to an economy of consumption. What will the next paradigm shift be? Regardless of what it is I'd like to see our children receive better education about such things as supply and demand, the relationship between interest and inflation, the jobs and market cycles and most of all, the stupidity of too much credit. Maybe the kinds of consequences we are now reaping can be avoided by a generation that knows some basic truths about resources, wealth and the relationship of scarcity, time and effort. My greatest hope is for an economy of "stewardship." As opposed to an economic engine driven by relentless consuption an economy of stewardship is a heart driven by compassion, conservation, human values and thrift. Is stewardship and conservation better than consumption? What do you think?

The Ugly Side

I remember reading a Time Magazine article back in 1976 which mentioned that one of the great dangers of the future would be nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. That idea has stayed with me all these years. In a post-nine eleven world, when people start talking about what is next I surely can tell them what I hope is NOT next. Regardless of whatever future we may imagine or hope for, the pivot point from which it will either catapult into reality or slide into oblivion is what the dark forces of anger do in our world. My three point perscription for eliminating terrorism in all forms: 1- ever decreasing reliance upon oil as a global commodity...2- international mandate for shared lands in the middle east...3-attention to addictions, abuse and other dark angers in ourselves that fuel those same fires which can direct passenger planes into public buildings and convince human beings to become walking bombs.

All Aboard

And how about travel in the future? We in the industrial world are as conspicuous about our travel as we are about our consumption. I'm sure a lot of folks hope for improved technologies that will increase speed and decrease time. I don't. As far as the daily tour of going to the store, appointments, work and occasionally the movies I would like to see more self contained communities that eliminate the need for automated travel to do most of these things. Such arrangements would allow us to walk to most of what we need. It's healthier. It's more relaxed. It's more social. It's more real!

As far as travel to exotic locations it would be nice to have more old fashioned comfort even if it means sacrificing time. My biggest concern isn't where we go to vacation it's whether that holiday provides rest and a needed slow down or a bunch of things that return us home more stimulated and stressed than before we left.

Will Religion Be "Hi-Tech Holy?"

Yes we have seen what I'm sure some folks consider the "invasion" of technology and modern music into the world of worship and church but that is a small matter compared to what I see is needed. And what is needed is not about technology, it's about humility.

The failure of the "Council on Church Union" to unite all main line churches under one banner back in the early 1970's was the beginning of what has been the most precipitous drop in traditional Christianity in our nation's history. It directed and continues to direct people to fringe theologies of exclusivity and jingoism. All because denominations were too proud of their petty particularities and too stubborn to see their one true center. The problem is solved very simply. Humble up. Forget the difference. Define some common goals. Unite! What do you think?

Don't Mess With The Public Library

Will the most institutional and democratic of all democratic institutions be changed ten, twenty, fifty years from now? I hope not much. Some good things shouldn't change more than they need to. I hope, in addition to still being points of shared information, libraries will more fully become points of intellectual exchange. Places where knowledge is not just disseminated but created. A good example of this is Wikipedia on the net. Imagine the excitement if shared creation of information could take place in public as well as virtual forums? What do you think?

From the above it should be obvious that I believe the future needs to be slower, more thoughtful and thought filled. A place where we seek less outward action and more inward satisfaction. But that's just what I think. What do you think?

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