The pace of change

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Tue 19 Nov 2002 - 16:33:29 GMT

  • Next message: Wade Smith: "Re: The pace of change"

    An article I read about a year ago by a businessman who was selling to the global economy said that the greatest problem he had today was the pace of change. The world is changing so quickly that he couldn't use methods he learned at Harvard Business School to solve his business problems. They were obsolete before he graduated.

    I don't know how many of you have heard about Ray Kurzweil and his theory of the singularity, which he expounds upon in his book, Spiritual Machines, but in it he shows that the world is changing through technology at an exponential rate. Technologies capable of changing the paradigms of our existence are being released at an ever-increasing speed. At some time in the near future (he figures between 2020 and 2030) the computer will become smarter than humans and will start designing new machines that are beyond our understanding.

    The same pace of change is taking place in the fields of biology, genomics, physics, economics and every other field that is affected by the use of computers. This, to my mind, is the root cause of the clash of cultures. We are moving into the future at something approaching the speed of light and a lot of people in the world don't want to go with us. Change scares people. They can't or don't want to cope with it. It takes a lifetime just to adjust to the world we already know, and it looks like the planet is spinning out of control.

    In just a couple of decades, the crops we harvest have been changed genetically in countries all over the world. Nearly 75% of the soybeans grown in the world are GM products. China is training over 200,000 biologists to try and catch up with the West in this field. The country that is trying to become part of the new world doesn't have time to fight long drawn-out wars with its neighbors nor to sit around and let the infrastructure go to hell and its citizens remain ignorant. As the Red Queen said to Alice, it will take all the running they can do just to stay even.

    That, to my mind, is the main reason some people are trying to stop the world from running away from them. The 14th century seems like something they can understand and live with. The 21st century doesn't. There's more to Macdonalds and Wallmart than just hamburgers and french fries. It is a way of controlling the market and driving the little guy out of it. It is a technology that is more efficient than the old mom and pop way of doing things. Cows slaughtered in Chicago end up in hamburgers in Beijing a month or less later. The golden arches use so much beef they can control prices all over the world. I think this is the kind of domination the more backward and slower moving countries resent.

    I saw a show the other week on an African country trying to stave off starvation by growing chocolate for the market in Europe. People were processing the beans for chocolate with a wooden pestle in a hollowed out tree stump. What they didn't realize is that no matter how much more they get for their product, it won't be able to compete with modern production and marketing methods. Someone in another country will find a more efficient way to do it and the Africans will continue to starve.

    This is the kind of domination that is scaring the hell out of the third world and the people being left behind by it. They see it as a religious issue, but that's just a small part of it. It's the way we in the west are changing the world and the rate at which we are changing it for a people who want to keep it the same -- like something they have grown accustomed to and feel like they can cope with.

    Customs that are based on the way the world was 500 or 1,000 years ago don't serve us well today. Genetically modified foods must be driving many of them crazy. Where in the Koran and Kosherdom to they fit in? Before the spiritual leaders of the world can make decisions about what is and is not kosher, the world is covered in crops that never existed before. Rice now has vitamin A, fish are being farmed and changed genetically to grow bigger and faster, corn contains its own insecticide and cattle can contain the genes of pigs. How can an old-world person know what they are putting in their bodies and how can they reconcile the new world with their religious beliefs?

    The short answer is that they can't. So they feel the new world is being forced on them against their will and the U.S. is the primary force driving the changes they can't accept. The people being affected see it in terms of religion rather than commerce and technology, but they feel they are being taken over by something ungodly and they feel helpless to do anything about it. So they strike out the only way they know how -- as their religion taught them. Like the prophet led them to take over the West under Islam. Like al Quaeda was able to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan.

    And we in the West are too busy competing in the global market to pay attention to their fears. We feel we have to move forward with all of our technologies. We can't take the time to make technology conform to religious belief. The culture that doesn't move forward will find itself too far back to catch up in a short period of time. If you are illiterate, you're locked out of the internet and the global market. Cars are becoming too complex for a third-world, back-yard mechanic to understand and fix. The whole world and the culture that underlies it is becoming too complex for the people who aren't running fast enough to keep up. And they resent it.

    And that's the crux of the battle in my mind. It won't matter how we try to appease the people in the countries that are being drowned in the rushing river of change. We won't be able to do it. They will resent the changes taking place and will blame us for them. They will be frustrated because they can't understand what's going on or what to do about it. They will see us as hegemonic invaders forcing our culture on them. And in a sense we are. But the river doesn't stop just because someone is drowning in it. And neither will we.



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