When I was younger I remember thinking that 1996 or 1997 would be futuristic. I had a calendar in 1986, when I was turning 9 years old, that had pictures of the space shuttles and artists’ conceptions of distant planets, space stations and galaxies. It filled me with dreams of the future and of course, humans in space.
Since then the dreams have not come true. We’ve spent 10 years and billions of dollars making an international space station that is about 1/100th of what I imagined back when I was a kid. No person has traveled to a celestial body since I was born, and space exploration seems to consist of telescopes and that’s it. NASA is a mess, the shuttles are being mothballed soon, and Europe and Japan seem to lack vision. China and India have entered the space age and are engaged in their own small space race. But aside from the interesting potential of these space programs 20 years down the line, they are now just reaching the point that the United States and the Soviet Union crossed around 1965.
Since those early days I’ve learned a lot about the world’s poverty, the political and bureaucratic problems that lock up developed countries, and, everywhere, corruption. The greed of many is polluting the world, and the environmental movement still lacks clout, 40 years or so after its early steps. I grew up, and found out that the world is a place of conflict, of selfishness, of fighting over resources and ignorance of history. There is intolerance and self-righteousness all around.
I am disappointed with where the world has gone in the last 25 years. What happened to the 90s? Why were the first years of the 20th century lost and virtually given up on? In the 90s we were still figuring out Eastern Europe, helping and hurting their transition. We were focused on old Yugoslavia’s breakup. We were watching while ethnic cleansing was still happening in this world we called ‘civilized’. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 did not change anything. It merely was the most devastating terrorist attack on United States soil. I remember it distinctly, but can’t fathom why no one seems to remember the horrific attacks all through the 1980s. The Bush Jr. years seemed to meet with resistance around the world at first, then passivity, as they waited for his 8 years to run out and for America change and reengage. The United States has failed. It is corrupt. It is split into two factions. It does not lead because it is incapable of leading.
Without a hegemone the world trudges on. China and India may one day lead, but for now they are still mostly just concerned with development. As they should be. One of the great triumphs of the modern age is the pulling of hundreds of millions of peasants out of poverty in these two huge countries. I myself need to learn more about India. I have spent the last 6 years learning about China from within. India is next.
Technological progress continues, but the great days of scientific discovery of the 19th century and early 20th century are long gone. Progress tends now to be all about entertainment and communication. We have faster trains, but not the computerized traffic systems and electric cars I figured we would. Solar power has yet to fully arrive. Video conferencing happens, but why don’t I have a flat panel on my kitchen wall that I can use to talk face to face with my parents? The World Expo is in Shanghai this year I and I will visit it several times. The theme is the future of urban living. Will I see anything that we shouldn’t already have?
The world in 2010 is not what it should be or could be. I too, have not done my share. So what about the world in 2030? What can we achieve? I will turn 53 that year, still in my prime, but not for too much longer after that. I would like to see a world full of cooperation and competition. Of people trying to better themselves and the world they live in. Of tolerance and compromise, but also vision and strength. I want to be able to visit the moon and mars. I want to burn zero fuel but still do everything that I wish to. I want to live in a secure world, without war and ethnic rivalry.
Who do we look to for these advances? We should all look to ourselves. We should to innovators like Google, who build power with brains, then seek to change the games they find fault with. I like ideas like Google Books. I think all the knowledge in the world needs to be scanned, copied, collected, and distributed. Not in one place, but many. Not by one company, but by many governments, companies and other organizations. Most of the knowledge the world ever produced, we have lost. I am sure of it. We need to preserve what we can. I don’t care about the writers of today – let the novelists have their copyright. But the writings of Pythagoras, Lao Zi, and the unknown writers of the Vedas and Pyramid Texts need their works to be available to all.
Learning and education are a start. Leadership, discipline, and work ethic are another aspect that is often missing in the West these days. We are too comfortable. We need passion and fire to change things for good. Too often we are misdirected, distracted. We care only for our own family’s needs. We are insular and think short-term. Our political systems are contests for power that take up too much time and money, instead of being systems that allow for good governance, change, and true leadership.
2030 is not that far away. Time marches quickly and does not pause for us to fight, and argue or rest and put off.