Image via: Education for Well-being (http://www.ed4wb.org/?p=386)

We think and live biased by an imperceptible inertia, inherited from our past culture and imprinted in our minds by our education. We are not used to investigating the factors that determine our condition, and in many ways, even when we push the limits of self-awareness, we are still missing essential matters.

One of the frames we are taught about through our lives, is the time required for any process. Measuring the duration of events, is at the root of planning your day, your activities, your life. We might be familiar with some of these time frames, but as for many others, we haven’t got the least idea.  These ones, need to be discovered, studied, verified, checked again and finally, made knowledge. From this point on, that knowledge can be then transmitted to others.

Working in Architecture and Design, one of the first things a client will ask you in any given project, is how long it will take. From the perspective of a professional exercise, you will easily give a first approach to the programme and a feasible date of completion, with a considerable degree of certainty. When medical doctors are requested about how long a recovery will take after a surgery, based on own past statistics, and previous studied cases, they will be able to tell the patient the days or weeks needed. Even in natural events, if you study enough you will be able to know, not only the frequency with which a comet will visit our system, but predict when a phenomenon, like collision of asteroids, is due to occur.

We take time into account every day, at every time. We have time inserted in our mobile phones, in our PC screens, on boards on the street. Thus, there are different timelines, which happen to be “natural” or at least, predictable according to different scales of events. Well, this is an utter fallacy. We start losing control and capacity to predict times when approaching more complex issues, like when will the Republicans hold power again, or if and for how long will the European Union last.

We also know how easy it is to consider timelines in retrospective and draw conclusions, i.e.: how we could have imagined 15 years ago, that we would be able to access Internet, our email, much of our stuff, make photographs, videos, play games, all through a handset not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Who could have predicted the Ipad, 20 years ago? Please realize that we are talking about decades, not centuries.

Take a glance, if you haven’t done yet, at the timeline that illustrates this post. Pay some attention to it for it’s completely inaccurate* (I’m being ironic…): due to the revolution that took place in tools innovation, and the amount of devices developed and produced in the past two decades, the 6 years between 2004 and 2010 span for more than a 1/4 of the whole graphic, almost the same than the first million years when oral language, maths and graphic art were developed by our ancestors.

Here are my questions:

Given the acceleration social processes are suffering (or enjoying) in so many ways thanks to Information Technology, considering the impact IT is having in the way we study, work, live, relate, communicate, decide and act, why are we so convinced that changes in Society, in terms of reforming democracy at its roots, should necessarily take “too long”?

What experience do we have, or who is expert enough in this matter, to assert such thing as “democracies change slowly”.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: changes in our societies don’t take place faster not because they are difficult to implement, but because those changes would be inconvenient to some. The other reason why we react accepting as a fact, that social processes take time, is that we are comfortable with that notion. We don’t really need Society to change at a different pace. But let’s be honest again: if we truly believe so, we are fooling ourselves.

So what should we do? Should we foster change? Should we demand equal speed of change in restructuring our democratic systems, as in any other field of our lives, say … 3D movies or TV? Should we demand more referendums? Should we start preparing new sets of strategies and platforms on our own?

I don’t know the answer, and I started this blog precisely because this issue has been hitting my head for the past 5 years or so.

But what I do know is that we need to be ready. We need to be open minded for the changes ahead, so the future will be already familiar to us, and we will be able to take advantage of those changes, instead of reacting overwhelmed and shocked.

We need to sharpen our tools, broaden our minds, exercise our imagination, be ready for action.

We have to conceive the inconceivable, in advance to the facts.

Otherwise, we will be outsmarted, once again.



* I would like to apologize with the author of the graphic for I realized the expression “completely inaccurate” could easily be misunderstood. It was not my intention to say it’s not correct, but only to stress the fact that the acceleration of devices and Technology tools development, has been extraordinarily exponential in the past 20 years, in comparison to the first million years and that forced the author to “distort” the timescale. I thought this might be obvious.




12 Responses to “Timelines”

  1. cromwellshead Says:

    Mmm! Food for thought Ricardo. My own reluctance to jump on board has its roots in suspicion. I work the land, I am in tune with the seasons. It has taken me years to switch off from hustle and bustle.
    My suspicion is the nefarious side of technology, its use for monitoring and controlling. Advertising.

    I see a generation of young people so absorbed in screens, they have lost their connection with the real world. I fear for their social and mental welfare. They are dependant on an electronic nipple, as is society. A troubling existence.

    I agree, it offers hope. Myself, well I am talking to like minded people the world over. I can read almost anything I want. However, my books will still be there when the power is off. My food does not come from online shopping, I grow it. I do not live a screen centred life.

    I can envisage a world where technology benefits mankind, I like many aspects of fast communication and exchange of ideas. I try and balance these with my chosen lifestyle. Last year we went offline as an experiment, apart from e mail we really did not miss the internet. It is a tool, like my tractor.

    I suppose society will adapt, but millions are left behind. Corporate interest is already leading to draconian control. Crime is flourishing online. Too many ways to catch the unwary.

    In short, find a balance. Keep the necessary skills to live a balanced life. Never depend on one thing for your existence. Use technology as a tool, do not let it become your master. Also and perhaps more important, do not let it become a god.

    Thank you, that is a very thought provoking piece.

    • Dear John,
      Thanks once again for your comment.
      I need to think about it, for it ranges too many approaches to the subject. I will come back to you soon, since I’m aware of the risks, as well as radio, cigarettes, TV, were once in the past.
      Stay tuned….

    • If you could just leave your reluctance aside for a few moments, you would be able to see that my approach to technology is not such as of dependance nor even admiration, but the discovery of its potentiality as a enabler tool for fantastic things we didn’t even thought about …… what? 5 year ago?
      This speed of change is such that it might well make us feel dizzy and confused, losing all reference for knowing where we are standing and more worryingly, where we are heading.
      Same as cars, your tractor or a crane, I feel technology is not worse than any of these, we have at hand. Well, actually yes, there is a difference: it is not necessarily driven by production, but also for consumption.
      It will be part of our education and culture, to learn to use technology in a proper way, but not rejecting it plainly for its risks attached, or side effects it might have.
      I’m certainly not saying that technology will SOLVE magically and mysteriously, all our problems being them individual or social.
      But I’m feeling many things are exponentially easier today than 10 years ago, not only referred to buy stuff online, but also to access information worldwide. You could, should you wish, check what the prices of Real Estate properties are in New Zeland, or even find out which pharmacies are open 24hs in Reikjavik (not saying these examples are useful, but they show the range of information available to every single person who can access Internet on a PC or mobile handset).
      The example Clay Shirkey mentions in one of his conferences, about the last earthquake in China being broadcasted online by people themselves, before chinese authorities, and any other international traditional media, is a clear sign that Internet will continue revolutioning the way we will build up the knowledge of the world around us.
      Finally, I don’t see any conflicts between your decision of producing your own food, and still be connected with the rest of the world. You live as you wish, and yet you are not forced to be socially confined, if YOU DON’T WANT TO.
      In fact, I might ask you for some advice in the near future … 😉

      • cromwellshead Says:

        More food for thought! Well, my fears…… yes they are fears. A lack of vital and necessary skills already exists. The list is endless but it is there.

        Where abuse takes place, who is authorised to police and act on this abuse? I do not want a net nanny service,but I cannot envisage a way in which I trust it totally.

        You rightly point out things are easier than ten years ago, also this can itself disable academic study. My, I am starting to sound old fashioned and I admit I am. I earned my degree, my son in law looks everything up online for his and never opens a book. He has not learned the process of research, Mr Google tells him straight away.
        “Essays for sale”! A student buys an online essay and submits it as his own, no work, just plain falsehood.

        The speed of change..mmm! Ricardo, the western population is ageing. People my age, well yes we cope with some change. The problem lies in the speed.It is mainly driven by corporate need for profit. We no sooner have got used to a gadget than along comes its shiny new alternative costing money.
        ( My mobile phone is ten years old!)

        I know you are right, I sense your enthusiasm and admire it.

        My final point. Spirituality. When we lose touch with the real world, the one that feeds and clothes us, we lose a sense of belonging. I love my books, my tools and the feel and smell of tangible things.

        With a smile on my face I ask you to look at Wikipedia. Type in “Luddite”. That about sums me up, not totally, but close 🙂

  2. I cannot imagine you destroying your computer though…

  3. We are living in the rising chaos of the machine age. I recall 20 years ago when we were promised that this would mean also the age of leisure, when machines would do the heavy lifting, the work week would be reduced, everyone would be better off. The industrial revolution was a rough time too, also an age of the robber barons and extreme poverty. It is the nature of humans to seek advantage over others, to want financial security which ironically is never achievable no matter what you have.
    You are right that change is taking place and that great opportunities are offered by advances in technology, but that does not mean it will be a comfortable ride nor a quick one. How will technology deal with the extinction of species or the potential population boom that could exhaust our planets resources?
    I can’t see into the future any better than the next guy. My grandson, now 5, may embrace technology, he may excel, but he still will live in a time of chaos caused by adjustment to it by society as a whole.
    And I am an optimist!

  4. Agingthoughts:

    Thanks a lot for reading and commenting. I’ll try to explain my point of view as neat as possible.

    I am not a fan of technology in itself. In fact, I hate that my daughter had received a Nintendo for Christmas (what can I say?), but I definitely cannot see how you could have posted a comment like the previous, and myself have read it, without technology.
    I like communication, empathy, socializing but in the most and pure honest way. This means that we are being enabled to create bonds with people we have never seen and will never see in our lives, probably as strong as with the neighbour next door.
    As you state in your first sentence: we live in rising chaos (though only for those of us who don’t rule). But on the other hand, we live in a time where communication between people has never been so easy and spread in all the world.
    One of my main approaches to the devastating situation we are in, is that we should stop facing it from each country separately, as if they were watertight compartments. We need to realize that, although in different ways and degrees, this “crisis” is affecting us all. It’s something structural, global and systemic. Not national, financial and subjective. Technology, thus, is a mean and not an end in itself. It’s just a tiny but powerful tool for human communication.

    The second part (and I’ll try to cut it short), is that technology whether we like it or not, is changing so dramatically every aspect of our lives, and in such a short time, that there’s no one able today, to predict the efects of this in 5 years time.
    There’s a presentation called “Shift happens”, that states in one of the slides, that by 2020 people will be working in jobs that haven’t been created yet. We are educating our children in the past, with obsolete means and concepts. I’m sure your grandson will find a perfect balance between researching online, and choosing the best printed books to read (personally, I hate kindle and tablet books).

    • I grew up with computers. Learned about binary arithmetic while still in grade school and before there were any “home” computers. I have also worked in the computer industry and was responsible for a major medical school getting on the World Wide Web before most people understood what it was. Point, I am not against technology, but as I age and have retired from active involvement, I have lost touch with the new social media. However, I am active with a community organizing project which places high value on building relationships and stories to build community. So, I am interested in the pros and cons of relationships built through social media like blogs and how it is the same and how it is different.
      To that end, I will probe and agitate where it helps to squeeze out these distinctions, if any. Frankly, I see the human experience, the evolutionary experience as only in progress, not finished. However, i suspect that the next evolutionary stage will be not DNA based, but silicon based. That will cause enormous chaos, but ultimately, there has to be an end to our exploitation of our environment. I will not get to see the result, but most young people will see the chaos I suspect.

      • Thanks again for commenting. Like many times happens, your comment could perfectly be a post in itself.

        The printing press also changed completely the landscape of human society and evolution, although we all are aware that certain human attributes never did.

        Internet and social media, together with the immediate access in the palm of our hands, is such a powerful tool, that we could have never imagined it would be so, maybe 15 years ago.

        Times are accelerating at such a rate, that it’s really difficult even for those involved in the industry, to forecast what will come in 5 years time and what the impact will be of these changes in social dynamics.

        I would really like to read some of your experiences. That will give a deep background of what we can expect, at least, on the side of those permanent patterns in human behaviour.

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