Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What's Next?

 By Dennis Sherrard

Each year most of us celebrate the coming of a New Year with a counting down the seconds on New Year's Eve of the passing of the old year and welcoming the beginning of the new one.   Usually, much too much champagne or other good cheer is indulged and we spend the next day sleeping off the effects of the celebration.  After the effects of the previous evening have passed, we often spend a little time on reflection of the last year, thinking about the good and bad events that we have experienced.  Usually, it is a mixed bag of memories, and if we were fortunate enough not to lose a loved one, we all consider ourselves pretty fortunate. 

A new year is often welcomed with plans and resolutions to do many things.  One might want to lose some weight, quit smoking, lead a more balanced life, learn to do something new, and so on.  We make lists, talk to each other about our plans with great optimism and determination and hope.  Hope.  That's the key word in this welcoming of the new year in my view.  Hope is that quality that helps us believe that our future will be better than the past we've left behind   As an example, we hope for more money in our wallets. We hope for a cure for the illness we or a loved one has. We hope in general for better things.    This is one of the qualities that in my view makes humanity so great.  Hope is the salve for despair and cynicism.  Hope is that spark that drives a single mother to work, go to school and take care of her child for she hopes that the work she puts in will lead to a better life.  Hope drives us all. Hope is a good and vital thing for all of us walking around on this little insignificant planet. 

Hope requires action however.  One cannot hope simply that things improve.  Hope must lead to taking in hand the work necessary to achieve the aspiration.   I think about this every year when I have yet again failed to achieve one of my New Year's Resolutions.   Usually, it is about weight for me.  I start off very good, very determined and achieve success.  Then, I fall off the wagon and wind up back where i started.   I get depressed about this, but for some strange reason I still believe I can get where I need to be.  I have hope.  I need more action.  I am now in the unfortunate position of resolving to have more action. So, we'll see where that goes. Tune in next year this time.

This article however is about the longer view.  The title of the post is "What's Next?", which suggests that we are now ready to move-on from the recent and perhaps distant past into new frontiers.    What's next for me is the question of; What will we do to leave our kids and grand kids with a foundation for achievement like we saw in the 20th Century?  Let's take a minute to talk about what happened in the 20th Century.  It was a period of time where arguably, more advancement in the accumulation of knowledge and accomplishment in deed was achieved than any other point in our recorded history. 

Think for a few minutes what occurred during the last century.  Here are my top twenty in no particular order of importance:

1. The development of the technology to put someone on the moon and bring them home again.
2. The identification and development of antibiotics that has helped millions survive bacterial infections.
3. The development of vaccines that have almost completely eradicated diseases such as polio.
4. The invention of radar, a technology used by everyone who sits in an airplane to go to work, visit a relative or take a vacation.
5. The end of legal racial segregation in America.
6. The development of the integrated circuit, and before that, the transistor.
7. The splitting of the atom which has brought both wonderful and terrible things.
8. The development of the electron microscope, which has opened a world to us that was once too small to see.
9. The development of hybrid crops that resists disease, feeding millions of people who would have otherwise likely starved.
10. The achievement of super-sonic flight, which set the stage for new technologies that allow for us to explore our solar system and break free of the earth's gravity. (see number 1)
11. The democratization of autocratic nations and the defeat of fascism.
12. The end of colonialism in Africa and the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
13. The passage of the right to vote for women in America and many other countries across the world.
14. The development of technology to create energy from the sun and wind at a commercial scale.
15. The creation of a social safety net for our elderly and disabled in America.
16. The development of molecular biology that allows for cloning, stem cell research and other advancements to treat or eradicate disease.
17. The advancement into quantum mechanics, that domain of the invisible, which is getting us ever closer to understanding how we became to be both personally and in the Universe at large.  I think the coolest thing to be brought from this is the fact that all of us, everything ever made at any point in time is comprised of the same basic elements as every star in every galaxy.  We are all stardust.
18. The recognition that the idea of discrimination based on race or sex or sexual orientation or disability is an archaic idea that will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.
19. The development of the Internet which has democratized the distribution of information.  It is mind-boggling to believe that since about 2005, we are effectively doubling the amount of stored knowledge and information than was produced from the earliest days of recorded history to the present.
20. The development and mass-production of plastics and synthetic fibers that have revolutionized how we build, store, wear and care for ourselves.

All of these achievements and many, many more occurred during the short 100 years that was our 20th Century.  We've come a long-long way from those days of plowing behind a horse, weaving our own cloth, not understanding what makes us sick, etc.   The question now is, what happens tomorrow?  What will we do that will set the stage and the foundation for our children to accomplish what we can only dream about now, and in some cases not even imagine?  There are many petty things that occupy our time that do nothing to move us forward.  We need to think more about our legacy and what will we do that will instill the hope in those who follow that they too will make the 21st Century as incredible as the 20th.  Tomorrow is promised for no one, so we need to work today with the Hope that tomorrow does indeed come, and our kids will be served well by our efforts.

What's Next?

Happy New Year,

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