As we hurtle ever faster into the great unknown - our future – we look back and realize how rapidly we’ve moved from roughly 1000 years of the Agricultural Age, through about 200 years of the Industrial Age, and now we have popped out of the 40-year old Information Age. The speed at which this acceleration has happened in turn has allowed us to accomplish many things simultaneously. Two of them are: Create a population explosion, and become addicted to all things virtual and visual. This means that we are now looking this two-fold New Age square in the face: The Age of Sustainability and Imagination. Short of Mother Nature’s intervention, there will be no stopping us; we will continue to gain momentum into this Twin Age. And, if we are conscientious inhabitants of the one and only planet we are squires of, at some point we should ask ourselves: Do I add to or subtract from our Brave New World?
Age of Sustainability
Technological advances have helped us create what we need and want - but what about the ability to sustain what we have created? At this important juncture in time, it would behoove us to learn from the Native American principle: Our decisions today should be based on how they will affect the next seven generations. The short-term answers we’ve come up with to meet our growing needs – like oil drilling not only on land but also in the sea, GMOs to grow more perfect foods, and building factories near water to dispense waste products have proven to be short-sighted and have created potential long-term disasters.
Let’s take a look at how our needs have affected our main international trade partner – China. The lack of sustainability in China has produced a shocking, toxic effect on all living things –especially human beings - from the now toxic air Beijing citizens must breathe to the polluted water used to raise their food and even to drink. On January 16 of this year, a furniture factory fire in Zhejiang province blazed for three hours before anybody noticed due to the incredibly thick smog. It took 10 hours to extinguish the flames. Dense air pollution across the majority of China reached dangerous levels and caused sharp criticism from the public of the nation’s rapid growth. According to Beijing’s smog authorities, readings for particles small enough to penetrate lungs were almost 40 times worse than the World Health Organization’s safe limit. That horrific pollution was responsible for many transportation accidents, increased deaths and set the stage for long-term negative health problems. We should be very concerned about what is happening in China because unless we continue to make improvements and work towards healthy, a sustainable environment, China is a harbinger for the US.
We need to switch our focus from present hedonistic consumerism to a brighter future positive, personally, within our communities, nationally and globally. It’s time we seriously work towards cleaning up the mess we’ve made and help restore our planet to its proper health-giving status, not its health destructive mode.
Age of Imagination
Our science and technology is spurred on by our creativity and imagination. Nothing is impossible anymore – what we can imagine, we can create. And many believe these two central components are well on their way to becoming key factors of primary economic importance. The future is now and we see it with the explosion of virtual reality and “user created content” (think YouTube and Facebook.) The way we interact socially and professionally has completely changed over the past two decades.
Not long ago it took days or weeks to communicate via posted letters. If people couldn’t meet face to face, they used the telephone for voice to voice contact. We sat together in “family friendly” places to watch our favorite television shows. Now we receive information in seconds via email and the Internet, telephone calls have been replaced by text messaging, and recently even Internet chatting is giving way to just texting. We can watch any show at any time on our laptops. We have at our fingertips the ability to communicate with several - or thousands of - people at the same time via e-blasts, group messaging, or in Google Hang Outs. We can see, hear and learn about other cultures instantaneously. We have imagined and created ways to make our lives easier through our clever use of cyberspace and created jobs that can be performed in the comfort of our home. We have expanded our own personal worlds to include the entire virtual globe and ironically, in the process, we’ve built invisible walls that separate and isolate us from others. The more electronically connected we become the less personally and socially connected we really are.
Chose to Add, Not Subtract
The choice – whether we add or subtract in this twin Age of Sustainability and Imagination – is up to each of us. We can be present hedonists - takers - and use up our precious resources without thought of our responsibility to future generations; leave them high and dry to figure a way to clean up the mess and chaos we’ve left behind. Or, we can be future-oriented givers – we can use our expanded imaginations to create a brighter, more positive future and work towards leaving a legacy of hope and love. The choice is ours. Will we add or subtract? What will YOU do about it?
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The Dawning of the Age of Sustainability, by Eric Schwartz and Karen Peterson. Wordpress.com, February 18, 2010.
The Emergence of a New Global Culture in the Imagination Age, by Rita J. King. Essay for the British Counsel, November 2007.
Our Vision for Sustainable Culture in the Imagination Age, by Rita J. King. Essay for Paris, 2008.