Imagine if a third of your family died of the plague as religious fanatics preached “The end is nigh!” and threatened that the few pleasures you could squeeze out of life would lead to your eternal damnation. As wars raged around you, surrounded by death, disease, and the lowest grimy depths of poverty, it would be understandable to think the world was in the midst of an apocalyptic collapse.
There have been a lot of periods throughout history when people thought they were living during the end times, and for some, this was an understandable attitude. But what about the person who tweets that the world is going to hell while safely sipping a latte on a city avenue? In many ways, things have never been better, yet there is still so much pessimism about where the world is heading.
It’s not all the fault of the negative people. There are those who dedicate their careers to making sure the population stays angry, stressed and scared–we call them the media. I admit to being a part of the problem at times out of my failure to balance alerting readers to real dangers and giving breath to needless anxiety.
Of course, there are some things that need to be addressed in order to make sure human lives continue to improve. But already progress is overwhelming. All you need to do is look around to realize that we have a historically unrivaled ability to shape our lives to match our dreams.
As penance for any past negativity about the future on my part, here are 10 reasons to be excited and hopeful for the future. 1o ways that we are not on the edge of a cliff, but at the foot of a glorious mountain of prosperity.
1. The Democratization of Exponential Technology.
Technology is allowing anyone to be economically independent, and its rapid growth is paving the way for unprecedented access to freedom and wealth.
Democratizing technology means the masses now have access to what only the rich and powerful once controlled.
Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler describe this process in their book Bold, about creating wealth in a changing world. They reference a chart that shows how technologies develop, from an initial idea which only a few understand, to excitement when the public catches on, to disillusionment when people realize it’s not ready yet for mass adoption, and finally to a user interface that allows the technology to be widely adopted by non-experts.
When my uncle bought a VCR in the 1980’s, it cost him somewhere around a thousand dollars. He paid a high price for the reward of being one of the first to own a new technology, and in doing so helped pay for the next generation of much cheaper VCRs.
Democratization is what happens when those hard costs drop so low they become available and affordable to just about everyone.
The same thing happened with cell phones, computers, and cars, and the process is now continuing with things like 3D printers, infinite computing, and robotics.
3D printers are about to become household items revolutionizing the consumer industry. Imagine having the ultimate choice in what specific products you need, downloading a design online, and printing the item in a matter of minutes.
The first few people who own one will pay a ridiculous cost, and show off to all their friends with glee. We have them to thank for the later affordability of technology.
Quickly the price will drop, and the initial cost of the machine will be dwarfed by the savings in the products you can personally manufacture in your own home.
And that is just one example. There are now tons of internet based tools which allow any individual to access mountains of computing power, office tools which used to cost thousands of dollars for a license, file storage, video editors, website hosting and so much more.
Do me a favor and add your comments about specific technology that has been democratized that is meaningful to you. For me, cryptocurrencies, and online publishing tools for the web and print have had the largest impact.
2. Transportation is on the verge of a revolution.
I am so ready for driverless cars. Time is the most valuable resource, and morbidly limited. Anything that allows me to kill two birds with one stone is something I want. If I can reclaim a few hours here and there while getting to my destination, that makes me more productive.
After half a century of using basically the same exact technology for airplanes and cars, we are finally about to get something new and better. Self-driving cars, the hyperloop, and space planes will make travel and shipping cheaper, safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. Part of this revolution will be enhanced by 3D printing as the costs of making engines and other components freefall.
The final frontier, space, is opening up, giving us countless new solutions to Earthly problems and a backup plan in case Earth hits a roadblock. Peter Diamandis started an asteroid mining company; Virgin, SpaceX, and others are competing to be your premier space travel agents, and bullet trains and hyper loops promise to make ground travel efficient enough to have breakfast in Boston and lunch in Los Angelos.
Lord Wellington famous lamented in the 1800’s that railroads would “only encourage the common people to move about needlessly.”
He could move about all he wanted due to his wealth and stature. It’s been a long time coming, but technology is the great equalizer of human beings. The freedom to move about needlessly allows anyone to seek better opportunities, innovative experiences, and specialized knowledge.
3. Beer is only getting better.
Make no mistake, civilization is built on beer, and putting a microscope to the delicious beverage can indicate the type of society in which we live.
The pendulum has swung from quantity to quality as craft beers continue to take a larger share of the overall beer market. Over 20% of the money spent on beer in America went to craft breweries in 2015.
There are also a record number of brewpubs, microbreweries, and craft breweries in America, and still almost ten times as many breweries opening than closing each year. This tells us people are preferring local breweries to supply their beer, despite the world becoming more globalized than ever.
Some people tend to think of businesses as only getting bigger, crowding out competitors, and eventually establishing a monopoly. That was arguably the case for a while, as Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors dominated the beer market. But people’s standards must have risen, and with it, their quality of life, as they can now enjoy a decent beer.
The success of craft breweries is a positive indicator of what people are valuing in business–local, quality, and an experience.
4. Mom and Pop Restaurants are thriving.
At first glance, this may seem unimportant and erroneous to the larger point. But think of the implications of why mom and pop local restaurants are topping their chain competitors.
This is another sign that the American dream is alive and well. It is part of a growing trend that people are looking into the businesses they support by reading reviews and shopping around.
In a world where anything can be ordered on the internet, people don’t want the same computer-like feel when they go out to eat. This is a great sign that the culture is embracing research to make informed decisions about using products and services.
It also suggests people do not want a prepackaged factory experience but are counting on restaurants to wow them–after all, they have plenty of other options.
I think this goes hand in hand with the local food movement, as people pay attention to whether food is nourishing or poisoning them.
The ebb and flow of society offer these corrections. Humanity was correct to be super excited about factories, assembly lines, standardized products, and mass production from the late 1800’s onward. But at some point, it went too far, and we are just now reclaiming some industries that might not need to be so streamlined after all.
5. Reefer Madness.
How could things be getting worse when you can now smoke weed without the threat of being caged in 21 states?
But seriously, marijuana legalization is another indicator of a cultural shift toward chilling out and allowing a live and let live philosophy. The war on drugs was a failure, costing far too much money and human lives.
Cannabis legalization is showing the first cracks in the colossal disaster. But the most important thing is that we are stepping away from legislating morality, and letting people make their own choices, and not be thrown in prison for non-violent victimless crimes.
We can also now properly research the many potential health benefits of cannabis, which could lead to a new health revolution. Cannabis is the lightening rod of healing herbs, but it will help free the mind to pursue other promising herbs that humans have forgotten can heal and prevent a multitude of illness.
6. The internet is growing up.
Let’s not forget that the internet is still maturing, and only in the last two decades have we begun to see the monumental upsets in industry that the internet has caused.
Disruptive technology is what Diamandis and Kotler refer to as “any innovation that creates a new market and disrupts an existing one.” The internet has put the power to disrupt the largest technologies in the hands of the people.
The creators of Airbnb and Uber disrupted the behemoth hotel and taxi industries, without furnishing a single room, or buying a single car.
Finding employees and creating products was costly and time-consuming before crowdsourcing came along. Now hop on the internet, and gain access to millions of people willing to do free and cheap labor to help you learn about an industry, create a database, analyze mountains of information, or design a new logo for you.
Even websites like Craigslist should not be overlooked, connecting people far and wide for exchanges of services and products.
For me personally, being able to work from anywhere in the world is the ultimate freedom. I am currently sitting under a tree at a picnic table on a mini-farm in Florida.
The topic of how the internet has changed the world could fill countless books. So let me know in the comments the specific ways it has helped you achieve goals, and live a better life.
7. Cell Phones and Mobile Networks put the world in your hands.
Mobile devices are also just coming of age, and work hand in hand with the internet to provide unparalleled access and options.
Again, this is one of those technologies that we have the insufferable 80’s and 90’s yuppies to thank for making it available to the masses. Those rich technophiles with terrible hair and oversized suits paid for the advancement that gave to us handheld devices with more computing power than the entire world had just 50 or 60 years ago.
Rescuing yourself from a car breakdown, meeting up with friends and family, or coordinating important events has become child’s play.
You have access to a world of information, tools, and entertainment wherever you go. Don’t use that power to tweet about how much life sucks.
8. Soon, Everything Will be Free.
Or at least the costs will be so minuscule that it is an afterthought. Already we pay for more and more with our personal data, albeit so that the companies can then sell things to us through extremely targeted advertising. But the ultimate power still rests with us on whether or not we buy what they are selling. And even when they sell things they have to give some free stuff away first.
Who subscribes to anything without first using the free trial? And I know I’m not the only one who fills up on free Chinese food samples at the mall. Free wine tastings? I’m in!
I wrote a novel about life in 2115 New England after the collapse and rebirth of society. In the novel, advertiser’s apartment, or adaps, were available for free to anyone, as long as you could put up with constant advertisements all over your walls.
One character routinely filled up on free samples from the market, after leaving his job at Utopacorp which provided everything an employee needed–housing, healthcare, food, recreation–in exchange for 30 hours of easy labor per week.
He lamented the fact that he could not afford to travel to the moon, or that he was not rich enough to get an adap bigger than a studio apartment. He was oppressively forced to rely on free clinics for medical solutions because he could not afford to inject nanobots which prevent 99.9% of diseases. He avoided the free church dinners because he didn’t want to be preached at while filling up.
But I didn’t just make these things up, I based them on the trends that we are seeing already. For some reason, people are still paying for college while everything they teach you is available online for free, for the small price of putting up with advertisements.
You can join communities like Couch Surfers for free accommodations, and get free books, toys, and clothes from recycling websites. Stop in any McDonald’s parking lot for free wifi, and camp in any Walmart parking lot for free. Get your first teeth cleaning free at Aspen Dental. Go on Craigslist to find free wood, free plants, and free building materials. Dumpster dive for free meals past the expiration date, but still perfectly fine.
The more competitive business gets, the more free stuff we get to lure us to their products and services. The more wealth is created, the easier it is for companies to provide basic free services (Pandora for music, WordPress for publishing, FreedomPop for mobile service), in the hopes that you upgrade to their paid services.
The future is free. But you will always be able to pay for an upgrade.
9. Healthcare is Improving Despite the Industry.
Don’t look to the government to advance this one, they put bandaids on bullet wounds. Yet the tools to massively improve health and longevity are budding. The sick healthcare industry is poised to be healed by disruptive technology.
In the 1920’s, President Calvin Coolidge’s son died from a splinter he got while playing tennis at the White House. The poorest person in America today has access to better healthcare than one of the most powerful people in the world fewer than 100 years ago.
Many of the ills in the world can be chalked up to growing pains, trying to patch an old outdated system instead of embracing the new one.
My grandfather, leading the research and development department of a company in the 1960’s, created a new process for thawing blood in hospitals. Nurses would have to guess about how much blood they would need throughout the day for infusions, and set the frozen bags out to thaw. He developed a system for rapidly thawing the blood without destroying it. The nurses rejected his innovation because they thought it would be a hassle. They were stuck in their ways.
Sometimes, you need something entirely new in order to not be negatively influenced by old rigid systems and prejudices. There is a bill right now in Congress to allow over the counter hearing aids to be sold. In other news, you currently need a doctor’s prescription for a hearing aid!
This just shows how slow those in power are to come around to advancements which seem obvious to normal people. People might be 3D printing their hearing aids with illegally downloaded designs before congress gets around to graciously allowing us to take healthcare into our own hands.
Many of these technologies discussed here will contribute to rapid advancements in healthcare, as long as cultural dinosaurs don’t successfully stop the progress. Medical devices will be 3D printed. Diseases will be diagnosed with handheld devices, apps, and artificial intelligence. Preventative care will eliminate some of the most costly aspects of medical care.
And if I am correct in the local beer and food movements being indicators of society’s values, we will see a rebirth of people treating food as medicine, avoiding the vast majority of current medical problems.
No, not democracy, freedom. This is a hard one to define, and even harder to see a larger trend. There are places on Earth today as oppressive as ever, and there were places in 2000 B.C. where you could be as free as the wind. But combined with modern technology, humans are about to become absolutely free. And it will not lead to The Purge or Mad Max.
The limits of freedom are obviously the collision with other people’s freedom. It was difficult in the old days to allow people to be free without having their freedom cause negative externalities for others. But in the modern world, technology is making it easier to regulate actually harmful behavior, without violating the freedom people need in order to be prosperous and happy.
Citizen journalists now have the power to record and publish abuses of power. Amateur sleuths comb the internet for signs of conspiracies and power grabs.
There may be more laws than ever, but many are impossible to enforce and easy to get around.
The power structure of the past millennia is crumbling as humans become more connected, sharing information, and lifting one another up to realize their potential.
Technology is liberating. The ability to travel is freeing. Information is power.
Everything on this list contributes to lubricating human interaction to reduce the friction that causes conflict. And without conflict, with options for redress, with advancements in the quality of life which make crime pointless, we get closer to true liberation.
We aren’t there yet, but the future is blooming at an exponential rate.
Don’t fear the future. Embrace the exciting changes which are transforming the world into a better place. It is an exciting time to be alive, contributing to the construction of a bold future of freedom, prosperity, and peace.