Progress is a reality. Nowadays we live far better than we did just 50 years ago. And 50 years ago, people lived much better than they did 100 years earlier. No matter what pessimists say, it is a fact.
As I am writing these words in the hot month of August, the whole country is going through an extraordinarily strong heat wave and temperatures are reaching 40º C. But I am not sweating at all. Not because I have air conditioning in the study –which I could, for it is pretty affordable nowadays in Spain, but because I have two little fans: one is plugged into my mobile phone and leaning on the laptop screen right in front of my face, and the other is standing on its neck on the desk and plugged into the laptop. Such miniature supplies of silent and clean air are powered by the energy of this that I – and thousands of millions like me, use without having the foggiest notion of how it works, that is, a cell-phone and a computer.
If I need a synonym for a word or information on the etymology of that word or any other kind of illustrated information, I can simply look it up on the internet, and a very quick type will instantly pave my way with words. If only I had this in the early days of college! I was lucky to have the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in my living room, but most of my classmates had to travel to the university library. For most of us, that meant an hour and a half just to get there. But even for me, with the luckiest living room in the world for any lover of books and knowledge, the search for information took some time - actually, it could take a long time. Now, what is the real meaning of taking too long? How do we gauge time in order to know when something is taking too much time?
Internet speed is measured in bits per second. An internet connection at home is considered to be slow when you are under the 500 Mbps –considering that Mbps stands for Megabits per second, and that 1 Mb is 1 000 000 bits, it means that slow is when it takes more than 500 000 000 bits per second to download anything from the internet. How does that translate to understandable time measures? If a page takes more than a blink of an eye to open on your screen, that is too slow! The duration of a blink is between 100 and 400 milliseconds, according to the Harvard Database of Useful Biological Numbers.
Have you ever got exasperated at a red light when driving somewhere, thinking it was taking ages to turn green? Well, a red light normally takes about 30 to 45 seconds to turn green.
Benjamin Brandall, in The Myth Behind Loading Times: Software’s Most User-Friendly Lie, (https://www.process.st/loading-time/ March 14, 2018), wrote: “Staring at the tiny LCD progress bar of the vending machine in a lobby, I realise nothing pisses us off more than indefinite waiting times. Especially people waiting for their coffee, their cheap flight comparisons, or their computer to finish doing whatever it’s doing.”
The anxiety produced by the waiting time in front of a loading bar is something commonly known to all software designers nowadays and does not surprise us at all. What about cooking? Try baking your own loaf of bread for a whole week! Nothing defines best the new age we have just entered as this collapse of time. If the fourth dimension is relative, never before has it been so short.
Social development, technological advance, and scientific knowledge are all processes that have always depended on available information and its accessibility. The immediacy with which information can be accessed, wherever it comes from on the planet, is unprecedented. Both the speed with which we can access data today, and the amount of it that is available, are what make the difference.
Historians like to divide History in ages and for each one of them there has to be a beginning and an end. Such partition of time actually creates different worlds. Every world has had to begin –or to put it differently, for those who love distopic conspiracy theories, every world has had to come to an end. In fact, there have been several ends-of-the-world already. The First End of the World or beginning of a new one which favoured us somehow was the extinction of the dinosaurs: my apologies to the big reptiles, but that was the only way for our remote and earliest ancestors to prosper. Next, after some millions of years, the capacity to control and use fire was an event that meant a huge change for humanity, thus a turning point in history, and the beginning of a new world. Taking another enormous leap in time, the invention of writing, which happened about 5000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, put an end to everything that came before and set the starting point of real History –as in opposition to Pre-history.
Turning points in History happened more frequently than we think. Just like the asteroid striking the Earth and killing all dinosaurs, many meant almost instant changes in history. Such turning points are, among others, the discovery of the Americas, in 1492 –which was the End of the World for Aztecs and Incas, as well as many hundreds of other native cultures; the French Revolution, the Russian Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, the Cultural Revolution… and any other branded with the same surname.
But not all Ends have happened so abruptly nor have made changes noticeable instantly, and in many cases, people were not aware of them until some time had passed. Take the fall of the Roman Empire, for example. There wasn’t a specific moment for that; it didn’t happen all at once, and there wasn’t a day when all the newspapers in the Roman Empire (had there been any) would have printed in bold capital letters a headline reading something like ‘The End of the World is Now!’ But it definitely was one end of the world for Europe, and it happened during the 5th century AD. Same goes for the Renaissance, during the 15th century, which actually meant the End of the World of Medieval Times. Again, the people from the Middle Ages lived their lives unaware of the imminent End –how could they, if they didn’t even know they were medieval people?
According to most historians, the latest turning point in history was the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945, when humanity saw for the first (and hopefully last) time the effects of atomic bomb explosions on civilians. This ended the previous period and launched the beginning of what we now call Contemporary History. Many have tried to forecast the events that will put an end to the Contemporary Age. In my opinion, the End of the Contemporary World is being brought about by the collapse of time and the amount of accessible information.
Firstly, the collapse of time.
For centuries and millennia, humans have travelled the world for many different reasons, but one of the most important has always been commerce. What you don’t have, I have; what I don’t grow, you grow; let’s exchange it. On this simple discourse, trade was invented. Obsidian from the British Isles, used more than 10 000 years ago as prehistoric cutlery, has been found all over the Mediterranean coast. How long did it take to journey across the continent?
Space and time, that is, the geographical distances that separate different cultures and the time that it takes to bridge it, are the two absolutely indisputable and objective parts of the equation that defines any historical period. These are two realities that have changed so much over the centuries and that are so indissolubly linked to progress as to make one epoch different from the next.
From the dugout canoe to the sailboat, distances reduced in time and hence in the perception of real space too. And from there to the steamboat, and then to the engine… From horse and cart to aeroplanes! Not only have distances become shorter as transportation evolved, but also how we perceive the size of the limitless space.
But now, a new and unprecedented element has been introduced that is capable of shortening time and space in a way that would have been unthinkable even in the wildest dreams of Sir Thomas Cook and Magellan. And in this respect, no earlier era can match ours. The internet has not only shortened distances in both time and space but has actually removed the time/space factor from the equation, leaving the process of progressing to the quantity of data alone.
Secondly, the amount of accessible information (aka: big data).
Do you want to build a hut in the woods? Ask Google how to do it. Would you like to write a best-selling book? Google will show you how! Need to find out why you cannot poop? Google again! Virtually anything and everything is on the internet, and Google is just one of the search engines that will do the dirty job of fetching the information you need. Based on real searches carried out by real people, here’s a list of the kind of things you can find on the internet according to real Google database (that is, when enough people search for a particular term, the internet engine stores it to provide search suggestions for the next person):
· What are the legal implications of eating your own cat
· What are the consequences of eating your own period
· How much of a diet can a Himalayan salt lamp be
· Where to donate a testicle
· How come cupcake is not considered a mineral
· How to get help when you are a prisoner in a…
a) Chinese bakery
b) toothpaste factory
· Considerations around…
a) a chinchilla eating the universe
b) a sentence that does not end the way it octopus
c) a velociraptor throws (?)
· What happens when you put a sock in the toaster
· Is it possible for men to have periods
· Were dinosaurs made up by CIA
· Can a human get pregnant by an animal
·Is it really impossible to lick your elbow
These are just a few examples of what people have wanted to know –it is not just about the silliness of the search; it is about the fact that if it is suggested by Google then it means that it has been searched about a million times!
According to a study by the University of South Carolina, in 2007, 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information were broadcast just through television and GPS; and the same university reports that in the United States alone, in 2008, there were 3,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information. Martin Hilbert, the director of this study, summarised it as follows: "If the information stored in 2007 were recorded on CD-ROMs, the stack of disks would reach from the Earth to beyond the Moon."
There are at least 47,300,000,000 webs worldwide, with an approximate total of 800,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of information (according to www.size.com, as of May 31, 2013). Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, in February 2011, there were 156,000,000 blogs in the world, and according to the current blog content metronome, an average of 3,000,000 articles are published per day worldwide, which means that, on blogs alone, we can find 1,095,000,000 new articles every year.
Right now, with one click you can access the most sophisticated knowledge, or the most unlikely. When I was studying at university, just the idea of being able to translate Sumerian tablets more than 5,000 years old was a dream, a fantasy. However, now we can not only find the texts of these tablets on the internet, but we can also find high resolution photos of them, and, more importantly, online dictionaries that will help us translate them step by step –and for free! This is valid for any aspect of knowledge. If we search Wikipedia under Scientific Journals, we get a list of 205 journals! All of them have electronic publications and publish hundreds of articles a year. The scientific information that is published annually is mind-boggling.
To the almost infinite amount of information on the internet, we must add what is published daily on paper or other hard media. According to the International ISBN Agency, there are more than 900,000 publishers spread over more than 200 countries around the world. If each publisher published only 10 new titles a year, there would be nine million new publications each year in the world.
At the Congress of the United States Library they keep the whopping amount of 151,785,778 publications, and at the British Library, the second largest in the world, no less than 150 million.
The vast majority of all that information is at our fingertips, just a click away. So, how is it possible that in the era of information, there is so much ignorance?
Or is it something even worse?
When in the Middle Ages it was believed that the Earth was flat, it was due to ignorance. Ignorance is not always a matter of knowing but can also be a matter of will. If you have the want of knowledge, yet you have nowhere to get it from, ignorance is more than justified. And that is precisely what happened for most in Medieval Times. Therefore, when in the Middle Ages it was thought that humans descended from Adam and Eve, it was because of the same brain substance: ignorance. Scientific studies on evolution were not available yet –mind you, there had been some learned Greeks who had already proposed it, so apart from what was written in the Bible, there wasn’t much more to read about. Ignorance in the Middle Ages was almost a necessity –in fact, if anybody dared to question it, they’d be tortured by the Holy Inquisition and most likely burned at the stake. But when people nowadays believe in such things, having access to all the information in the world, rather than a matter of laziness, it is due to a totally different type of grey matter –and a very dangerous one, too: it’s stupidity.
Stupidity has nothing to do with religious belief. Believing in God has nothing to do with stupidity. Most intelligent people I know believe in God; and the opposite can be true too: you can be an absolute fool and be a complete atheist.
Stupidity has nothing to do with intelligence. You can be a highly intelligent person yet act stupidly on some or many occasions. Furthermore, what might not seem stupid to you, could to me. Consider motorbikes. I cannot imagine anybody riding a Harley Davidson down a city road in the middle of the night and not consider him acting in an utterly stupid manner –and maybe it’s Albert Einstein who is riding it! So, what is stupidity?
No matter how intelligent people are, if they assert beliefs above Human Rights, that is stupidity. The jurisprudence of the countries which benefited from the Enlightenment has been in charge of establishing, through laws, what is considered ethically moral and what is not. Thus, stoning a woman to death under the accusation of adultery is stupidity and it has nothing to do with religious beliefs.
Considering other people inferior to oneself because of the colour of their skin, is stupidity.
Killing in the name of God, whichever god it may be, and considering it to be a war against evil –unless there are other reasons behind it, is stupidity. Moreover, declaring war on a country and killing civilians by the hundreds, to conquer the land, get hands on their raw materials, or to obtain strategical advantages in commerce… when you know it is against all international laws, against the Geneva Convention, and against morality… is despicable, appalling, unjust and inhuman; but it’s not stupidity. Hence, Hitler’s invasion of Europe (and the exterminating of 6 million Jews) was not imbecilic, but abominable. Dick Cheney, 46th vice president of the United States, on declaring war on Afghanistan and Iraq, same thing.
In short, without considering the conclusions of those who have
· reasoned over the same issue using rational and critical thinking
· based their analyses upon proven facts
· had the objective of achieving a better world for all mankind and are open to new ideas,
that is stupidity.
Scientific, humanistic, and enlightened culture (S-H-E-culture) is grandiose not because it is Western, or because it is “ours” versus “theirs”. SHE culture is great because it is inherently self-critical and evolutionary. SHE culture has actually learned from “her” own mistakes, prejudices and abuses. Precisely because we criticise ourselves and our SHE culture, we constantly progress; we constantly improve.
SHE culture unites all other cultures and invites them to become multiple and diverse, preserving each individual identity. Stupidity is all which goes against the SHE culture, unless one has a valid reason that justifies ignorance.