Abundance: The Future is (Hopefully) Better Than You Think

July 26, 2012

A few weeks ago, I stayed up into the early morning hours, in a room lit by nothing other than 2 million pixels on my iMac. I was feeding a troubling addiction, an addiction that been with me for years and years now. I can avoid it for long periods of time, but it does, on occasion, get the best of me. The addiction is turn by turn strategy games; in this case, it was Civilization V.

I’m wise enough at this stage of life to know I shouldn’t even buy these games, but this one came as part of a software bundle. It would be harmless, I thought, to install it to see how it was. After all, I’d played Civilization II, III, and IV over the course of my adult life, and for the sake of understanding cultural advances, it was important for me to see how the game had progressed into the next roman numeral. Six hours later, I crawled into bed anticipating a double serving of coffee and self loathing to come when I woke up to the approaching morning sun.

I haven’t played it since, honest. But I want to.

Each of these revisions of Civilization has seen advances in the aesthetics, and nuances to how the game is played. But they all develop along a storyline that is common future narrative, found in games, movies and books alike. We are either going to destroy each other, and our planet too, or we are going to escape the tattered remains of earth to find life elsewhere. We’re screwed.

Peter Diamindis and Steven Kotler’s book, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think paints a different, a more optimistic, picture of our future. Chapter by chapter, Diamandis and Kotler look at developing technologies to support a core idea; we have plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the future of humanity. New technologies are developed each day that will change food production, health care, communication and more within a few short years.

I embrace both innovation and optimism, so I was along for the ride. I think back to what changes have happened even in the last four years since we moved to Austin, and my son’s childhood has been very different from his sister who is only six years older. Emerging technologies and lowering costs are changing things not only in our middle class North American home, but they are reaching into almost every culture and economic level.

After finishing the book, though, I am left with some dissonance to what the authors had to say. It’s not as much as disagreement with what they had to say as an awareness of a gap. You see, the grand concept of this book could have been written 100 years ago as well. The telephone, automobiles, and flight were all new advances which promised reasons to be hopeful for the decades to come. And that hope was well founded in many ways. But these broad advances of the last 100 years shared a century marked by two world wars and multiple instances of mass genocide, among other things. The technologies are not at fault for this, and I am not suggesting that our developing technologies will be cause for even worse things to come. Generally, I am hopeful for what is to come. But technology isn’t the sole fix for being screwed.

Diamandis and Kotler focus on human advances, but speak little to human nature, other than a subtle implication that humans are generally good. And I agree that we are. As state of the art progresses, so must the state of our souls; we must not neglect the spiritual nature of humanity. As one whose education and vocation are both marked by theology, I want to be a part of a greater conversation — not one the bemoans the fate of humanity in the midst of innovation, but who that grapples with what we are doing has to be shaped by who we are being.

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