She said…

Thomas L. FriedmanSo, you think life is moving too fast?

Guess what? It is. I just started reading Thomas L. Friedman’s 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration. I’m hardly prepared to comment on the entirety of the book, because I’m just in the second chapter, but Friedman grabbed my attention early on, with this statement:

“It’s no surprise so many people feel fearful or unmoored these days. … I will argue that we are living through one of the greatest inflection points in history—perhaps unequaled since Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, a German blacksmith and printer, launched the printing revolution in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation. The three largest forces on the planet—technology, globalization, and climate change—are all accelerating at once. As a result, so many aspects of our societies, workplaces, and geopolitics are being reshaped and need to be reimagined.”

Does that make the world and its chaos a little more understandable, if not manageable?

Think about the life you are living today with instant access to just about everything, thanks to technology. What about globalization and its impact on national and international policy, the economy and social interaction? Climate change incites heated debate, less about how to deal with it, but whether it exists at all. And it’s all happening at the same time at an ever-increasing pace.

Is political chaos, violence, terrorist threats – domestic and global – economic uncertainty, fear, and general unrest attributable to these rapidly accelerating factors? I haven’t done the research, but just by observation, I would respond with a resounding, yes!

The most influential of these three factors (for good or ill) is perhaps technology and our easy access to information. We have hardly absorbed one change when we are bombarded with information about not one but multiples of change in areas over which we have little or no influence. We are barely able to take in reports of one horror or disaster, before we see on our phones yet another. We can’t catch our breath between one new bit of flashy tech and the next. Do we even know the lasting impact of globalization? Climate change isn’t just a political debate; it is an earth-changing behemoth.

This is not seeming to me to be a book that leads to optimism, yet I get it that we must not ignore what is going on around us. We need to learn more and understand more if we are to survive, much less thrive, as a species.

Change, it would seem, no longer comes as a process; it’s more of a bulldozer. If you can’t adapt, you get run over. The reality check for most of us is that we are looking the other way, trying to pretend we can go back to “a simpler time.” We can’t go backward, but I believe we can go forward with deliberation and intention.

The acceleration of technology, globalization, and climate change is already reshaping society – the world, if you will. At one time, big change happened in a bit of a vacuum, rippling into mainstream society over time. Years, even decades could pass before the general population knew about a major innovation, like the aforementioned printing press. Can humankind reimagine and thrive amid supersonic changes? I have about 400 more pages to learn what Friedman thinks, but this is what I think: We can’t control the world; we can control how we live in the world. I guess that makes me an optimist.

–Sharon Vander Meer

For more about Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration, by Thomas L. Friedman, go to www.thomaslfriedman.com.


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