Our Modern Times
This week marks both Canada and America's birthdays. It starts here with Canada Day on July 1st, and ends Independence Day celebrations south of the border. Growing up in Windsor Ontartio meant experiencing both in what, next to Christmas, was the best long weekend of the year. School had just ended, the hot days of summer had us all dying for a little celebration. We would always go downtown to listen to the free concerts at Ambassador Park, which has since been renamed and enjoy the festivities. At the end of the weekend over a million people would be gathered on both sides of the river to enjoy one of the best fireworks displays anywhere.
I still remember the feel of those nights, the energy all around and it is much different than today. I felt similar 'vibes' last weekend when I went for a walk with my Uncle Jim in Saskatoon. He delighted me with stories about my dad, and their parents, cousins and grandparents, something I've missed since my dad passed away many years ago. As he spoke about the past it was clear that was a more subtle charm at play, a naivety if you will, that accompanied generations of people not consumed by what they had or could acquire.
Our fore bearers were more pragmatic, direct and I'll say innocent, but not in the modern sense for they saw the great wars and lived through true hardship at a time when colonialism was still a major force in the world and democracy was very young. It was the innocence that comes with there being a time and place for things and the awareness that life was too short to waste. The mad pace of life that we know today had barely started, they rarely travelled far and were closer to the land that sustained them.
Today the majority of us live in big urban centers disconnected from those the create the food we eat and we travel less out of the bounds of our concrete jungles. Today so many seek their fifteen minutes of fame and the next thrill and will expound on their doings and achievements at great length. This is markedly different than only a little over a century ago as illustrated by the few scant pages of my great grandfathers diary. He was in the Black Watch and his entry on the battle at Tel-El-Kabir was the following:
....and arrived as Kassassin on Sept 11th encamped with the main body, disencamped and marched on the night of the 12th to attack Arabs main body on the following morn. The Highland Brigade in the main fighting line and carried the trenches of Tel-El-Kebir on the 13th at 4:30am.
That was it, not long drawn out explanation of a brutal battle where many died, no fanfare - just one succinct line. I dare say this would have been written up quite differently by a soldier today and is a good example of what I am referring. There were more examples as Uncle Jim and I walked and he talked about whatever came to mind. I was just thrilled to hear him tell their stories.
Touching those memories from my family history also stirred thoughts, besides melancholy ones, of a greater history, our human history and of the discussions I've had over the years about our evolution. I wrote about our evolution in last weeks Thought of the Day, this time my thoughts took a broader scope, our collective evolution and the evolution of our consciousness. The stories of of my great grandfather and grandmother and their families provided the seed for this piece.
Those memories of stark contrast reminded me quite clearly that everything evolves, even our consciousness. The thoughts we manifest today will remain, in a manner mixing and blending like the currents of a great river. What was hidden becomes known, what is known becomes common and what is common becomes incorporated into the "group consciousness" of humankind...then we become aware of more that was "hidden".
Each cycle of begats another and we evolve. Over the millenia this process has been slow with cycles spanning hundreds even thousands of years. It applies to tool making, to agriculture, mathematics, science and language and so on, as well as to the order of societal structure, leadership and governments, to philosophies and even religions.
Now, imagine each of these cycles as a spiral and you can visualize a series of them winding and interweaving amongst themselves. Each spiral has its own rates of relative size (size would be synomymous with their relative impact). Each new cycle is shorter than the previous one for in each cycle new ideas are brough forward and new ways of thinking are added to what we have learned and incorporated from previous cycles providing an ever expanding foundation for our collective awareness.
Today it seems like we barely have time to manifest new ideas before they are superceded by even newer ones, though often what we see is merely refinement of previous ideas, such as new, better, faster software or hardware. We haven't changed the idea of a computer....yet. But it is coming as interfaces evolve and will soon add new dimensions to the original and much simpler idea of a machine that does calculations faster or that can control a simple operation.
Each new cycle, regardless of its magnitude, is a significant change or a shift in some common paradigm. Cycles do not happen overnight and some shifts are minor, never reaching reach a broad enough audience to catch hold and so remain relegated to the fringes. Other are exploited to the nth degree, mechanisation, computers and communications being prime examples.
You can read many different books with as many different takes on the evolution of our awareness and how it all fits in to the evolution of the Cosmos or the unfolding of the perfection of God or one form of ascension or another. That is not what I am writing about. It is not that they are irrelevant, but what I care about are the kinds of shifts we are making to get some understanding of how this affects us.
Over the years I have observed us, humankind, at least that of us that has been presented to me. It has come from what I have experienced personally, read about in in books or on the computer, heard from people from around the world, seen on television or heard on the radio.
There are certainly a number of challenges in our modern world and, as I have touched on, it is orders of magnitude more complex and dynamic today than it was just a century ago. So much change in such a short period of time, changes I thought about as my uncle told me about my grand and great grand parents.
When you think about it a century is not a very long period of time compared to the full history of humankind. To have some much change in a short period of time is unprecedented. If you consider this idea more than casually many of these changes are obvious. I have named but a few below:
- the technology changes are astronomical (manufacturing, materials, computers, communications, power sources etc.)
- from a few phones to instant communications virtually anywhere on the planet
- massive amounts of information (facts, figures, news, music, radio, books, online info, signs and billboards)
- People know more people and the inter-relations are more complex
- 100 years ago staying alive was a primary concern, not so today (not in developed countries for the most part)
- Life expectancy has gone from about 30 to the mid-60's
- there were many areas of the earth that were unexplored by "modern" civilization
- there was 1.8 billion people then and 7 billion now
- Major environmental degradation and habitat loss
- Climate change
- Mobility has increased dramatically from the days of limited travel and our reliance on horses
- Basic education level has increased
Consider the above list and how significant any one of the points are let alone the group of them. These external changes have changed the way we live our lives dramatically and the human collective consciousness has been stressed to keep up with them. The kinds of stresses I am referring to are those that affect the way we exprerience the world and how we integrate our experiences and the consequences to us.
One hundred years ago people knew far fewer people, the family unit was closer and people depending on each other far more to get by. The world was also far more black and white back then as well. There were next to none of what we call modern conveniences, vast areas of the world depending on mail as phones were rare. Work was hard, wood heated your home, food was not as available and you tried to stay healthy as any illness was potentially life threatening. The average American lived to be about 48, far less than today.
It would be hard for anyone under the age of 50 to have more than vague notions about what living in 1900 would have been like. If you consider the list you will realize that not only was the external aspect of life much simpler and harsher, the way people thought, the types of thoughts they had and the amount of thinking they did was also very different. People had less going on and their thoughts reflected this. The harshness, relative to today, meant that people appreciated what they had more, they valued the 'things' they had, the friendships they developed and ties to the community were far stronger.
It wasn't all harshness, for there is something to be said for having less to think about. For many, having less going on in the world around them granted more time for idle thoughts and when they were not doing things their appreciation for what was around them was proportionately 'fuller' than today. They did not rush to and fro, they did not gloss over the world around as we do today. Their bonds of friendship meant more as well, for friends protected one another even under threat of harm, they were there for you, something that is far more rare today where many do not even know the people living next door or down the street. When I was young I knew just about everyone who lived in every home within a few blocks of my home.
When change happens slowly people have time to adjust, to get their heads around things. Remember, energy follows attention, so with fewer thoughts and less input energies were focused within family and community groups. These energies helped sustain whole communities in harsh times. People pulled together out of shared needs. This is becoming rare outside of major crisis such as happens when there is a flood, tornado or some other type of disaster. The summation of all the changes we have had to integrate has created greater stresses on us, and the cracks are showing more and more.
The stress is tangible, if you care to look. Observe the faces of people as they go about their business always focused on the future and where they are going or what they are doing and not so much on where they are. The moment is lost in the rush to get to the next one. When you look at the list of changes you can clearly see several key points:
- our lives are busier
- there is far more to take in moment by moment
- we have gone from having strong self-reliance and having a fewer but stronger connections with people to reliance on but with far weaker connections to many others
- our relationship with the earth has changed dramatically.
The first two changes are self-explanatory and fortunately we have a huge mental or thinking capacity though the number of distractions continues to make it hard for people to focus on what really matters. We will need to learn now to discard the irrelevant better than we have as peoples attention span has gone down in step with the increase in possibilities. People want to have it all even though they already have more than enough compared to one hundred years ago.
In terms of the third one, regarding connectivity, visualize a persons connections as a net. A century ago it would be a much small net with thicker strands more tightly connected, now the net would be huge though the strands would be thinner and less tighly connected. Relative to then we are very disconnected from each other. The loss of connectivity shows in our children and in the types of relationships they have and the way they interact with their friends. Frienships are not as deep as they were and are discarded far more quickly than in the past for when people do not like what a 'friend' did or anything about them they get new ones rather than work on the relationship.
We are going through a period where the loss of connectivity has not yet been replaced. In Canada, there were 1.3 wage earners per home in 1969, by 1999 it was 1.9. If you think about it, that is .6 of an adult that has been removed from every home in Canada every day. Just taking a parent out of each childs life for one hour more each day, let alone three, four or more means the loss of several billions of hours contact time each and every year across our country. Not millions of hours, billions!
This shift has left people longing for more but unable to define it, in that they feel a little off but cannot quite explain why. This change in connectivity has not yet been replaced and leaves people somewhat out of sorts. The increase in degree on connectivity coupled with the lessening of the strength of our connections has stressed us more by the year, yet there is hope.
The keys to our cage still remain outside of our reach, but we are reaching. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, so it is inevitable that some thing will fill the gap. This hope I refer to comes from the technology our minds have created and an increased awareness that all is not well with our world. And make no mistake, though very smart people have invented the gizmos of today it is the collective will of mankind that guides what will become common, what will catch hold of the collective psyche and what will not.
The last one, our relationship with the earth, is a very important one, far more than most realize. We have gone from being dependent on the earth for everything to seeing it more as something to be exploited for our personal benefit. Yes, this existed before; however, the world was a big place back then, and the impact was not only far smaller than today it was also less noticed. There was no internet to share stories instantaneously around the world with possibly millions of people and often it happened in remote areas. This has changed dramatically as our population grew and pristene environments have given way to "sustainable development", which is hardly anything of the sort. Also, those remote areas are no longer mysterious and unexplored and we also have eyes in the sky and go there on a computer, cell phone or television.
We have been raping and poisoning our planet with increased vigor and are feeling it. We are part of nature, not separate from it, though we do not realize how strong and important this bond is. It is hard to determine the causal connection between what we do with our environment and the social issues we have throughout the world or its impact to our physical and mental health. Be that as it may, I believe that we need to take far more responsibility for the consequences of our choices and actions at all levels of government but it starts with us as individuals. The choices we make in who we elect to serve us in government is as important as what we buy or do not buy. Both significanlty affect what is available and will not change so long as we continue to vote in officials who's interest is in getting elected and spending our money without concern for how products are produced or used.
Technology is our child and it has the potential to to fill the gaps and perhaps even save us from ourselves. This can be seen happening now due to computers, cell phones, wireless capabilities and the internet as well as technologies to make our activities more sustainable and less of a threat to our world. We can communicate with anyone virtually anywhere in the world in moments. And our minds are starting to learn to handle the complexity even with the growing pains. We are learning how to be better stewards of this planet, though this is happening at an almost painfully slow rate as profits tend to trump such concerns.
There is also the fact that the younger generations have been online their whole lives. The do not know nor can they relate to a disconnected world, to the greater degree of isolation that marked the lives of our grand parents. The way they lived would be alien to them as ours would be to them. We have focused on preparing them to get jobs, to make money and have not taught them the importance of the land, the animals, the lakes and oceans nor the value of quiet time. In part this is because we have not realized how the changes I have mentioned have altered our lives and our relationship not only with the external world but with ourselves as well.
Will any of these factors change over the next 50 years? Yes they will, for change is inevitable, though the how is anyone's guess. Humankind needs more time to come to terms with these huge shifts, a challenging task indeed with the pace of change showing no signs of relenting. The unrest in the world is a natural reflection of the failure of our old structures to handle the changes and we have not paused to objectively consider them. If the past is any indication one should not expect that we will be able to do so without upheaval, without drastic and likely painful changes.
Humankind has always shown a reluctance to change even though it happens continually. We seem to think that it will change for the better but getting people to agree on what needs to be done has and continues to remain elusive. One can take the passive approach and become conscientious about their choices or the active approach through protests and the like in an attempt to get people to think about the problems we face. Yet individuals still feel powerless as testified by the increased vigor and often illegal methods some organizations employ to try to force change. There is an old saying that "you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink" is as applicable today as it ever was.
Will we fix the problems? I do not know, though I do know that if each of us tries to live our own lives better, to care more for one another, to help where we can and do as little harm to our world as possible it can change. I feel sorrow over the loss of habitat in our world, over what our children will not have to enjoy as the older generations did (biodiversity, gorgeous and virtually untouched placed) over the pollution of our home and over the strife that shows itself in so many conflicts not just between nations, but between people. It is hard to live in balance today, though it is more necessary now than ever.
When I was a child there was still a great deal of mystery to the world and to far away places, something the last couple of generations will never know. This could lead us to reach the limit of the current paradigm, to a new relationship with each other, the world and the Cosmos. I believe we will see a greater awareness of the issues I have stated and a renewed vigor in the young to work towards common solutions to the problems that ail us for we are still confined to the earth and it is the only place that will sustain us at this time.
Will dissatisfaction with the way things are lead them to take action where the older generations have not? Will they learn to slow down despite the rapid pace of our world or to to take up meditation and reconnect with the earth to which we own our lives? Perhaps they will and though I do not know I would certainly like to think so.
© 2011 Allan Beveridge