Some people have no problem hopping onto a roller coaster to enjoy the thrill of the speed and movement. If I try that, motion sickness or kinetosis occurs very quickly.
Many parts of the body are involved with movement, including the eyes, ears and brain. Sudden shifts in movement, like those on a rollercoaster, can leave some people feeling dizzy and nauseous. Some experts say that any speed over which a human can achieve naturally (eg. running or swimming) and therefore adjust to naturally will lead to motion sickness in some people. That even includes sitting still and playing video games, which involves virtual motion.
We know that too much speed is not a good thing. It’s far easier to crash a car when going quickly, leaving less reaction time and stopping space. In nature when things go fast, like avalanches or abrupt climate change, usually there is a path of destruction left behind from all that energy being released at once.
The human mind is quite delicate and often responds slowly to changes in thinking, perception, and values. While sociological theories have been useful for understanding social change on a global scale, it does not address how we cope as individuals in a rapidly changing world. Social change can be described as “the transformation over time of the institutions and culture of a society.”[i] Humans have sped up their response time to changes – it’s estimated that it now takes us only 10-15 years to get used to the sort of technological changes that we used to absorb in a couple of generations (known as cultural lag). However, governments, companies and individuals are all still struggling to keep up.
During Thomas Friedman’s keynote address at a 2016 United Nations convention, he discusses how the confluence of rapidly improving technology, globalism, and climate change are altering the shape of our world faster and in so many different ways that the political, social, and economic systems can’t adjust fast enough to keep up.
Friedman argues that our capacity to adapt is being outpaced by a “supernova” built from three ever-faster elements: technology, the market and climate change. He points out that if Moore’s law [that the power of microchips would double about every two years] had applied to the capabilities of cars, not computer chips, then the modern descendant of the 1971 Volkswagen Beetle would travel at 300,000 miles per hour, cost 4 cents and use one tank of gasoline in a lifetime.
The very fact that this is not the case proves the point: little has actually changed with the overall design of the automobile in over 100 years. Even a flying car, or driverless car, is still just a car. Fancier trimmings, but still just a car. If you drill down below our love of new gadgets you find an inescapable, inconvenient truth: it’s all about energy. Without it, nothing else matters. Friedman made a comment during his speech which sounded liked he was interchanging technology with energy. They are definitely not the same thing. Technology requires energy; it doesn’t produce it.
Globalization, Friedman argues, is no longer about manufacturing and the trade of durable goods, that somehow we’ve raced past all that into a virtual world. John Michael Greer calls manufacturing the ‘secondary economy’, when we make objects from natural resources and thus add value. Nowadays, globalization is more about the electronic transmission of information, training, financial transactions, education, and the movement of chatter and social media. Greer refers to this as the ‘tertiary economy’, not rooted in reality as it does not acknowledge the underlying need for those secondary and primary resources in the first place. ‘Cloud’ computing sounds neat, but it still relies on giant server farms and enormous amounts of energy. And talk about speed: servers are considered obsolete within 7-9 years. There are no clean clouds.
People start acting in a reactionary way when they don’t understand what’s happening. And as change accelerates, we become less resilient and more sea-sick.
The full title of Friedman’s new book is Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving In the Age of Accelerations. While optimism versus pessimism will usually get people to listen, being realistic is more important. Friedman argues that developing countries have to move past digging up resources and move into the ‘cloud’ where there are ‘flows’ to encourage and exploit. But none of that is possible without the primary economy: computers, chips, servers, they all use raw materials and vast amounts of energy to keep them going. Not acknowledging this reality means thinking that the secondary and tertiary economies are separate from the primary economy, a mistake that blinds humanity’s actions. Likewise, not acknowledging climate change does not change reality; it just means that physical reality speeds towards human priorities: the city of Surrey is one of the fastest-growing in Canada, at the same time as it faces a rising sea level.
Currently on display at Surrey Central Library.
Friedman makes an interesting point about individualism: in our interconnected world, where one person can spark a conversation across dozens of countries, many people are connected but nobody is in charge. The question of values and what a person believes therefore becomes very important. Who decides what we do and do not persue? The ‘market’? Politicians? How do we slow down the rush of bad decisions we’re making as a species when nobody is really at the helm?
The answer, as always, lies in localization. Friedman argues that our values come from strong families and healthy communities. So he ends his book on an optimistic note: it is healthy communities which will lead us forward. We can restrain our worst excesses, work together, support each other, plan on a local level for resilience, and create a new cultural narrative. Those who give and help can be admired more than those who hoard money and build walls around themselves. We can aspire to be thrifty and celebrate the creativity that involves. We can build practical skills which become more valued than trying to create a job in the tertiary economy (many teenagers plan to create YouTube channels, or become game developers…far fewer think about practical life skills).
And we can slow down. There are still things we can do to slow down climate change, such as carbon sequestration in soil and trees, and using less energy on a daily basis. We can slow down our adoption of every technological idea that comes along, first assessing its impact on the planet as a whole and whether there is a positive or negative return on investment. We can slow down our lives, not responding to every electronic device within five minutes. We can walk more and use cars less. We can play a family game together instead of all being on screens in different rooms. We can put on community events, have communal dinners, plant gardens and talk to each other.
So check out the Village Surrey website for upcoming events where you can connect with others in the community. As fast as Surrey is changing, there are plenty of people working towards slow, sustained connections and that’s a good thing.
People at the PLOT in Newton