That’s a riff on ‘Ain’t We Got Fun?’ A song that dates waaay back to the Great Depression in America:
Not much money,
Oh but honey,
Ain’t we got fun?
In the meantime,
In between time,
Ain’t we got fun?
And it’s apropos of these times in which we live.
America is mostly in the dumper, Great Britain is becoming less great every day, Putin is loose again in Ukraine, we’re all pissed at China for whatever transgression du jour and the environment (however we care to define that) is going absolutely to hell. Each day there’s another asteroid headed toward Earth, closer than the one reported last week.
Never in recorded history has it been a better time to be a human on this planet. Worldwide poverty has never been lower, life expectancies are markedly upward, education (particularly among women) is on the increase and universal advances in healthcare have population growth topping out and beginning to decline.
Researchers Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna argued recently in their book Age of Discovery, we’ve never had it so good. Life expectancy, they point out, has risen more in the past 50 years than the previous 1000: a child born in 2016 stands a fairly good chance of seeing the arrival of the 22nd Century. The likelihood of a violent death has never been lower; on average, we’re better educated than ever, and childhood mortality has plummeted. Among the most striking changes, the last few decades has brought remarkable successes in tackling global poverty: in 1981, almost half the people in the developing world lived below the poverty line; as of 2012, that figure had dropped to 12.7%.
Personally, I think it’s impossible to judge the times in which we live while we’re living them.
Nostalgia gets in the way. I’ve lived through a bunch of decades and have the sneaky feeling that each was just a tad less elegant than the one it replaced. Oh, those fabulously beautiful automobiles of the thirties, when now they all have the magic of four-wheeled bars of soap, designed in wind-tunnels. Ugh.
The forties were not all that great, what with a World War and a Holocaust thrown in, so I exempt them from my wasn’t-that-really-cool list, even though the end of that decade brought Europe together after 2,000 years of wars. The fifties were exuberant and the sixties unleased a sexual revolution, albeit with the beginning of war (Vietnam-Iraq-Afghanistan) as a business-plan.
The sixties and seventies were the coolest in my personal lifetime because I was a young businessman and my world was simply drenched in possibility. The wow years, looking back, with just enough grief and anxiety to flavor the stew.
Then came the eighties, which I sailed into as a Republican and clawed my way out of as a Clinton Democrat. I watched in a state of shock as Reagan in America and Thatcher in Britain shook two of the greatest nations of the time by their tails and watched everything worthwhile fall out of their pockets. But that’s just my recollection. The monied interests see those times as the glory years and, who knows, perhaps they’re right.
The last four decades, at least of my life, seem too close to judge properly, but they haven’t been much fun so far as the world stage is concerned.
Yet the second decade of the 21st century might be a game-changer.
The long, steady curve of technology began to steepen thirty years ago, then rose sharply and is almost straight up today. The wealthiest families and individuals today head up companies that didn’t even exist twenty years ago.
We carry devices in our pockets that have more computing power than the room-sized computers that sent men to the moon in 1969. They connect us to something called the internet, that allows us to instantly scan every available scrap of knowledge in the world to prove or disprove a disagreement in a conversation over dinner. That same little flat-screen device allows us to buy a book or a suit of clothes, groceries or a holiday in a foreign country instantly, and pay for it, debiting our bank account. It rather casually includes a camera with more power and accuracy than the finest hand-held cameras of just a few years ago.
Oh, and by-the-way, it makes and receives phone calls.
As a writer, it would have been impossible for me twenty years ago to access the information needed to confirm my points of view in real time. Without a support staff to ferret out the required backup, no single individual could do what I do. That is both the power and access that upended the newspaper industry—along with such internet salespoints as Craigslist, that destroyed classified newspaper advertising revenue.
Tesla, the car I hope to own someday.
It would have to be a used Model 3, as they are above my paygrade fresh out of the showroom. Yet here is the first successful electric automobile since the Emerson Electric of 1904. Elon Musk, currently the richest individual in the world, created and manufactured an electric automobile that is valued at more than Ford and General Motors combined. Almost simultaneously, he created a solar power company and a space vehicle that powers NASA flights to the international space station, as well as commercial satellite payloads.
A single individual mind and energy is responsible for that conglomerate.
I have no idea what that means in the long run, because I’m living in that historic time and such things are only measurable in retrospect. But it’s exciting, and if my writing seems from time to time to strike too pessimistic a note, the technological possibilities of our times must be taken into account. There is a Chinese proverb that says ‘may you live in interesting times.’
We are certainly there.