Two things have always eluded comprehension. I have never been quite able to comprehend mankind’s lack of enthusiasm in combating its ultimate nemesis — death. Nor have I ever been able to grasp the intellectual lethargy evident in the realm of space exploration. The first question often leads me to the second. Perhaps, it is the fear of overpopulation that is keeping us from investing in increasing life expectancy. But then, why is it that the fear of shrinking space around us has not compelled us to colonise and make more room in outer space. I would have readily accepted the paucity of resources and primitiveness of technology as the answer if that was the case. But it is not.
In the past 25 years, I have seen the miracles of technology. The first computer I saw in my childhood was ridiculous. To back up only a few kilobytes of data, we needed a cassette recorder and infinite patience. Back then, we also used to gawk at the idea of car phones in foreign films. And taking pictures was an uphill task — add film, take a few snaps and then wait endlessly for the photo shop to develop and return your photographs. And internet — even the best scientific minds of those times felt its need. Carl Sagan, in fact, complained about the absence of such a network in his 1985 science fiction novel, Contact. Now, the tiny mobile handset that you carry can take excellent digital pictures, which through wireless internet can immediately upload to your online cloud in a heartbeat, ready to be downloaded or printed anywhere. If back then, you had bought the expensive volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you can now install that or Wikipedia in your handset through an insignificantly small app. Likewise, do you remember the Walkman, turntable and boom boxes? Remember, how many songs you could fit into a cassette or vinyl? Now, is it any difficult to play endless music in your cellphone or mp3 player? Of course not. And movies too — the list goes on.
Sadly, in many cases, we have not been able to progress at a similar pace. While we can now fly drones in distant parts of the world, we have not been able to invest as vigorously in our modes of transport. Our airplanes and trains remain slow, expensive and prone to natural and man-made disasters. While our war machinery advances at a cutthroat pace, the same cannot be said of the technology meant for greater good. For instance, we have heard a lot about the hole in the ozone layer, but except for bickering about carbon emissions, have we seriously thought of technology to fix such degradation?
One reason is that ours is a world of anarchy. Here, survival of the fittest means that your life is my death and I have to keep fighting to live. The present rate of population growth is complicating that problem further, resulting in limited resources. If these limits were removed and we had endless space and resources, this pattern of chaos would give way to an inspiring order. With infinite space now out there, our probes have now reached Pluto, only to discover absolutely no life forms. So it is like raising an ever-growing family in a tiny hut which is located in a corner of miles of un-owned land. The only thing which limits your comfort is your imagination.
We have another problem too. No nation has a monopoly on wisdom — to find better solutions, we need the best minds of all nations to come together. Multinational companies have come to the rescue but that is on too small a scale. Imagine the good we could do if all nations would shun differences and work together to find answers.
But then, our approach, too, is problematic. We spend so much energy on ensuring non-proliferation and yet nothing to find ways to undo radioactivity. We talk incessantly of finding cures to diseases and yet do nothing to enhance longevity. Man is a machine. How difficult could it be to find ways to fight the decay? Is it not time for a brave new world order?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2015.
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